Identity Thief

There’s a story in the movie business about a wise old producer who used to applaud at the end of every movie because he knew how hard it was to make a movie, even a bad one. I don’t think this producer is alive today, but if he was, I’m convinced he wouldn’t applaud at the end of this film. ‘Identity Thief’ is my second zero star film of 2013 (the first being the horrendous ‘Movie 43’). I hadn’t given a single 2012 release zero stars (the last movie to receive this honour would be ‘The Human Centipede 2’ in 2011).

Jason Bateman plays a guy named Sandy Paterson and the movie thinks it’s hilarious that a guy’s name is Sandy. Things are going well for him until he’s duped on the phone by Diana (Melissa McCarthy) who has him believe that she is calling from a credit alert bureau. In reality, she is fishing for his private information, and once she has it, she creates a drivers license and credit card in his name and goes on a wild spending spree in Florida. Through a complicated series of circumstances, Sandy flies out to Florida with the intent of finding and returning Diana to Denver in the hopes that she’ll admit the truth and his name will be cleared. Of course, crazy road trip escapades ensure, none of which are remotely funny. This includes Melissa McCarthy being chased by inexplicable armed thugs – what do they even want from her? This is never explained in the movie.

What an incredibly stupid plot! Shouldn’t his credit card company have noticed something was wrong? How can the same credit card have a transaction take place in Florida and Denver within the same day? The Florida transactions are quite substantial – shouldn’t this raise a red flag? Aren’t we all forced to pay a monthly protection fee for each of the credit cards we hold? Is this the level of security we get in return? I expect to receive a call from my credit card company shortly for the $30 cheeseburger I purchased last night. 

‘Identity Thief’ repeatedly circles back to same joke about Jason Bateman’s character having the name Sandy. Each time this happens, he responds with “It’s a unisex name.” Yes, it is! It isn’t that feminine a name – there’s Sandy Koufax, Sandy Berger, Sandy Alomar Jr., and Sandy Ward to name a few. Now, if his name had been Margaret, I might have laughed the first time the joke was made. But, this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what doesn’t work about the picture.

Let’s not forget that Melissa McCarthy is a brilliant performer – she was (rightfully) nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar last year for her work in ‘Bridesmaids’. If there’s one good thing that can be said about Identity Thief, it’s that Melissa McCarthy just goes for it – she’s a fearless comedienne. But, the script has her going through the motions with its repetitive gags – for example, her character has a habit of punching people in the throat; I didn’t laugh the first time, nor did I laugh the ninth time this happened. If this role had been played by Jim Carrey, Vince Vaughn, or Will Farrell – they would be able to take their outrageous comic antics and run to the end zone with them. But with Melissa McCarthy in front of the camera, the filmmakers undercut her, larger-than-life physical comedic talents – every fifteen minutes or so, the script requires her to cry about her upbringing, her sad life, and about how she doesn’t really have any friends. First world problems. In any case, we as audience members know what we would like to see – more so than the studios; and I think one of the many tweaks the script could have used would be to have Melissa McCarthy remain unremorseful and corrupt throughout. After all, if the character had been played by a male actor, that’s how it would have transpired on screen.  I’m not being sexist – the screenwriters are.

As for Jason Batemen, this is his second collaboration with director Seth Gordon – they both worked on ‘Horrible Bosses’ previously (which I gave a rave 3.5/4 star review to). Bateman can play the corporate drone convincingly but I didn’t believe for a moment he would be willing to go on this crazy journey. He’s smart enough to know that this is a matter the authorities could deal with. Bateman, like McCarthy, is a likeable star – the script leaves them both are stranded in the middle of nowhere without any help in sight. These are two actors who should have been able to sense that this script was a stinker – can I really sympathize with them? To make matters worse, even the filmmaking is lousy. Gordon zeros in on these performers faces often; this telescopic method doesn’t give us enough space to actually see what is happening with these two actors. What we get is a game of cinematic Wimbledon with the camera shifting its attention between McCarthy and Bateman; why can’t we just see them in the same frame?

But, what do I know? Identity Thief is the second highest grossing film of the year so far – it’s brought in a total of $130 million and is among the leading films at the box office, even in its eighth week of release. This makes all of us a victim of an identity thief. I didn’t laugh once, either with or at these characters – I didn’t even want to laugh near them. Get the point yet? I didn’t laugh. ‘Identity Thief’ is a terrible movie – one of the worst moviegoing experiences I’ve ever had. With a runtime of 111 minutes, this felt as long as the 5-day road trip Bateman’s character goes on – it is such a slog. I couldn’t wait for this to end. If there was a bright spot about it, it was that I got to see this movie with someone pretty awesome. But, even with great company, I just can’t bump the film’s score to 1/2star.

Being a film critic sounds like the best job in the world – you get to see every major movie that is released, and write about your experience in a darkened, air conditioned room. Truth be told, the job of a film critic sucks sometimes – a movie like ‘Identity Thief’ is proof of that. During my review of ‘Movie 43’, I stated that my chapter in life as an entertainment writer has probably reached its terminal end. Luckily, I saw ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ shortly after and all was right with the world. Here’s hoping I see another great picture soon. Else, this could be the end. If so, it’s been a blast. QED.

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