Identity Thief (United States, 2013)February 08, 2013
A lot of movies released into theaters deserve the label of "bad." Only a few cross the line into "reprehensible." Say hello to Identity Thief. The big problem with this overlong, tedious would-be comedy has nothing to do with the quality (or lack thereof) of its so-called humor. After all, everyone has a different definition of what constitutes "funny." The catastrophic misstep taken by this film is an attempt to incorporate a dramatic element to the proceedings. By going in this direction, it's no longer possible to view Identity Thief as a compilation of questionable fat jokes, sex gags, and slapstick. Instead, we are forced to absorb a cloying, artificial "serious" aspect that is so poorly rendered that it torpedoes any hope the movie has of succeeding. This feels a lot like some of the recent, unwatchable Adam Sandler offerings: boorish, unfunny comedy colliding with saccharine, quasi-dramatic filler.
I'm not going to spend much time talking about the movie's comedic elements. They're distilled from the essence that imbues the likes of Bridesmaids and Bachelorette, although not as forcefully. For lack of a better term, the humor in Identity Thief is more restrained than in those films, although there's still projectile vomiting and gratuitous sex jokes. Screenwriter Craig Mazin did a significantly better job with a similar level material in his previous feature, The Hangover Part II. At any rate, the trailer for Identity Thief offers an excellent sampling of the humor contained within. If you find yourself rolling on the floor laughing after watching it, it's a good bet the film will provide more than the two or three feeble chuckles it gave me.
Identity Thief starts out as a comedy about a nice, clean-cut, play-by-the-rules guy, Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman), who travels from the Colorado home he shares with his wife, Trish (Amanda Peet), and two daughters, to Florida. His goal: track down the woman who stole his identity, trashed his credit rating, and cost him his job. She's Diana (Melissa McCarthy), a fat, foul-mouthed cartoon creature who wallows in excess as she adds to Sandy's debt. While there's some comedic potential in the early encounters between Sandy and Diana, it quickly evaporates as a series of impossible-to-swallow contrivances (including two mob enforcers and a bounty hunter) forces these two on a road trip that transforms Identity Thief into a mismatched buddy film. That's when the production, already derailed, falls off a cliff. In a failed attempt to make Diana sympathetic, we're given a sob story about her tragic youth: abandoned as a baby, brought up in six different foster families, lonely and unloved. The screenplay expects us to sympathize with her, and it's not joking around. This isn't meant to be satirical or farcical. Melissa McCarthy is given a big dramatic scene in which she bemoans the many miseries of her life. Can you hear the violins in the musical score?
Bad Movie Time Dilation applies to Identity Thief. The stated running length is 111 minutes but the experience of sitting through this seems to last a lot longer. You enter the theater with youthful vigor and a full head of hair and exit it balding and with arthritic joints. Every minute spent watching Identity Thief is like an hour in an oubliette.
Director Seth Gordon's previous feature, Horrible Bosses, wasn't an apex of comedy, but it contained enough clever moments to make it worthwhile. Little if any of what worked in Horrible Bosses is evident in Identity Thief, which miscalculates more than a monkey with an abacus. And the likeability of Jason Bateman's everyman nice guy only makes Melissa McCarthy's Diana more troll-like and vile. (At one point, she's called a hobbit, but an orc or goblin would be more appropriate.) The film's cavalier attitude toward identity theft also leaves a bad taste. Intentional or not, Identity Thief comes with a morale: We should show lovingkindness to these criminals despite their wrongdoings because their deprived upbringing excuses their behavior. Yes, Identity Thief has a sermon embedded in the subtext and the existence of that homily, not to mention its content, is the most unforgiveable thing of all. "Reprehensible" pretty much covers it.
Identity Thief (United States, 2013)
Cast: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Jon Favreau, Amanda Peet, T.I., Genesis Rodriguez, Robert Patrick, Morris Chestnut, John Cho
Screenplay: Craig Mazin
Cinematography: Javier Aguirresarobe
Music: Christopher Lennertz
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
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