IDENTITY THIEF (One and a Half Stars)
U.S.: Seth Gordon, 2013.
Identity Thief is one of those movies that goes wrong early and never gets itself right : a glossy, messy, awful comedy about identity theft, starring Jason Bateman as the victim Sandy Bigelow Patterson, and Melissa McCarthy as his nemesis “Sandy Bigelow Patterson“ — the mysterious woman who‘s spending all his money, maxing all his credits cards and ruining his whole damn life.
The movie was directed by Seth Gordon, who guided Bateman in another ridiculous and mean-spirited comedy, Horrible Bosses, and this picture seems a bit of an identity thief itself (as many critics have pointed out). Midnight Run is one victim, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is another, and Dumb and Dumber is yet another, with a lot of other road movies looted along the way.
Despite a good cast and a capable crew, it’s a stinker. The script is predictable and senseless. The visual gags are dopey and garish, and they come at you like a storm of whoopee cushions. At one point, a snake crawls down Bateman/Sandy’s pants, maybe looking for some good lines. At another, McCarthy/Sandy has a misbegotten hotel orgy with Eric Stonestreet as the rowdy, big-bellied “Big Chuck.” And, through all this certifiable inanity, the two Sandys mop up clichés on the road, where they’re mysteriously joined by two hit-persons (played by T. P. a.k.a. Tip Harris, and Genesis Rodriguez) and a violent skip tracer (Robert Patrick), all waving guns. I know it’s a cliché these days, but this movie makes no f–king sense. Worse, it isn’t very funny.
But, if Identity Thief the movie is almost hysterically awful, the actors — Bateman, McCarthy, Stonestreet and several of the others — somewhat redeem it. (That’s a big somewhat, though.) If Melissa McCarty didn’t exist, she’s probably have to be invented: She’s close to the ultimate brassy, bouncy, comical tough gal and a half, a triumph of hard-edged personality over the usual vacuous movie prettiness. I hate to say it, but in a way, she’s the Chris Christie of the top American movie and TV comediennes. (And I mean that as an insult neither to Christie nor Melissa.)
In Bridesmaids, a movie where everyone was good, McCarthy still managed to heist a hefty chunk of the picture, by giving writer-star Kristen Wiig‘s maladjusted maid of honor a lesson in chutzpah and raw resilience we won’t forget soon. In Life is 40, she out-funnied any two 20s you can name. Here, McCarthy steps out of supporting buddyhood for a while to take a lead, though it’s not really a romantic lead. (It’s a John Candy-style lead). And she plays her part as well as it could be played — which I realize is no huge achievement.
The movie begins with that falsely promising scene when Diana calls up Bateman‘s pushover business guy, Sandy, in Denver (Diana is in Winter Park, Florida) and artfully pretends to be an anti-identity thief operative, thereby snookering him out of his social security number. The phony Sandy then goes on a shopaholic’s rampage, just at the touchy moment when the real Sandy is driven to leave his old corporation (partly run by Jon Favreau as a smirking, bonus-happy Ayn Rand fan named Cornish) in order to help start a new one, at the behest of Daniel Casey (played, daringly off-type, by Korean-American actor John Cho).
Suddenly, as happens with these infuriating identity crimes, Sandy‘s world goes ka-flooey. When his alter-ego’s shopping spree (plus a violent altercation and arrest) comes to light, the cops show up at his new company (including a very suave Morris Chestnut as Detective Reilly). Suddenly Sandy goes from six figure salary business wunderkind, to a schmo-in-dutch with a bunch of maxed and worthless Visa and Mastercards, all thanks to Diana and his own dopey indiscretion.
Up to that point, Identity Thief actually looks as if it might be a good movie, or at least a bad funny one. I was actually looking forward to it. (The more fool me.) But then, in a bewildering, mind-numbing plot twist that bewilders and mind-numbs me still, natty Denver Detective Reilly explains that his hands are tied, that these cases take forever, and he can’t somehow co-operate with the Florida cops (or the credit card companies) to stop Diana running wild with Sandy’s card. Instead, in one of the more flabbergasting plans since Howard Roark blew up his own building in Cornish‘s favorite novel, “The Fountainhead,” Sandy, one of the last guys you’d want to send on a cross-country pickup of a psychopath, drives off, in all his obvious street-unwisdom, to find the credit swindler, bring her back, and get her to confess to his bosses.
This bizarre twist and what went on before has the effect of making the police look ridiculous and the credit industry impotent and Sandy‘s boss Casey like some kind of clown with an Irish fixation. But it does allow screenwriter Craig Mazin (who has committed a couple of Scary Movies and The Hangover 2) to pull his big heist. Identity Thief, which probably should have stayed in Winter Park, becomes a cross-country road movie, swiping the identities of, among many others, the aforementioned Midnight Ride and Planes, Trains and Automobiles — two movies so infinitely superior to Identity Thief, that multiplexes might be well-advised to sell DVDs of them in the lobby, with a big sign reading “See how it looks when it’s done right.“
Indeed, Mazin and Gordon jam in so much laughlessly derivative humor, pseudo-sentiment, mean gags and bursts of phony schmaltz that the movie almost always seems like some other movie that just wandered in, spewing imitations of the Farrelly Brothers or their imitators on a bad day. The ending, both shmaltzy and cynical, is as wrong-headed as everything else.
Bateman, who also co-produced, gives this nonsense his all. He plays it harried and he plays it lightly sarcastic and he manfully endures every bad joke, sucker punch and snake flung at him — while validating his upper-middle class normality, with a nice little Denver family back home consisting of wife Trish (Amanda Peet) and two cute daughters (Mary-Charles and Maggie Elizabeth Jones). Bateman looks like the kind of guy who’d have a family like that, if not like the kind of guy who‘d give his social security number to a total stranger on the phone. Nor does McCarthy really seem the sort who’d get on the wrong side, all at once, of a lot of mobsters, hit-persons (T. I., a.k.a. Tip Harris and Genesis Rodriguez) and violent skip tracers (Robert Patrick).
But, bad as this script and movie are — and they’re so bad, they almost make The Guilt Trip look good — the actors sometimes pump it up and squeeze out some laughs, especially McCarthy, with her pink cupcake of a house, her loud trumpeting laughs, her nonstop cons and her favorite maneuver when hassled: a quick chop to the throat.
But I hope McCarthy doesn’t make any more movies like this, even if Jason Bateman gets down on his knees and begs. You can tell why he’d want to. With the right script, McCarthy is an actress who steals shows, effortlessly. She’s a classic loud , unrestrained, deliberately obnoxious comedienne, and Bateman may be classic straight man. But unfortunately. if Identity Thief is classic anything, it’s a classic fiasco. A screaming pink one.