Nobody plays deadpan strait man better than Jason Bateman. Nobody plays belly laugh shocking better than Melissa McCarthy. Based on this promising mismatched duo, “Identity Thief” looked like it might be the first sidesplitting comedy of the New Year.
Instead, the film is, more or less, an on-the-fence comedy. There’s an equal mix of genuine laugh out loud moments and jokes that fall completely flat. Is “Identity Thief” worth checking out for all the scenes that work or are the misfires too unforgivable? Well… let’s take a look.
Bateman is Sandy Patterson, an honest man with a promising new job and a perfect family. Sandy appears to be walking on sunshine until he learns that his identity has been stolen by McCarthy’s Diana, a trashy sociopath who has cleaned out Sandy’s bank account. Since the matter is out of the police’s jurisdiction, Sandy is forced to fly down to Miami and bring Diana back to Denver. This results in the classic road trip scenario in which our leads have a series of misadventures and unexpectedly become friends. It may not be “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” but “Identity Thief” does have its pleasures.
The highlight of the film is the chemistry between Bateman and McCarthy, who are wonderful as always. There are several truly hilarious bits between the two, the most memorable of which is an encounter with a CGI snake in the woods. McCarthy, who deservedly scored a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her work in “Bridesmaids,” is especially commendable here. The juggernaut Diana easily could have been another one-note cartoon along the lines of Adam Sandler’s drag abomination in “Jack and Jill.” Yet, McCarthy actually manages to create a character that’s lovable and even sincere. There’s a scene toward the end of the film in which we learn the back story regarding how Diana came to be the way she is. While it’s a little predictable and sappy, McCarthy still sells every line in a surprisingly heartfelt monologue.
Where the stars shine, the same cannot be said about some of the supporting players. On the road to Denver, Sandy and Diana are pursued by a couple gangsters played by T.I. and Genesis Rodriquez in addition to a bounty hunter played by Robert Patrick. There’s plenty of potential here for several humorous dynamics. But the bad guys are mostly played strait, resulting in a series of uninspired car chases and physical gags. Then there’s Amanda Peet as Sandy’s wife. She’s sweet and nourishing, but is devoid of any personality or funny lines. It might have been wiser for “Identity Thief” to ditch the wife altogether and have the romance be between Sandy and Diana.
Director Seth Gordon previously brought us “Horrible Bosses,” which most people seem to like, and “Four Christmases,” which most people seem to hate. Screenwriter Craig Mazin doesn’t have the most impressive filmography, being responsible for the disappointing “Hangover: Part II” and the last two “Scary Movie” sequels. If Gordon and Mazin had cast any other stars as the leads, “Identity Thief” would probably be a pass. Much like Steve Carrel and Tina Fey in “Date Night” however, Bateman and McCarthy are able to rise above the hit and miss material to produce something worthwhile. This is a movie that requires the stars to carry the entire weight of the story on their shoulders. “Identity Thief” is just lucky that Bateman and McCarthy are more than up to the task.
- Nick Spake is a college student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for the past seven years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com
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