Jason Bateman is another one those frustrating actors who will agree to appear in any old piece of shit despite being incredibly good. It’s finally getting to the point where the high points don’t mean as much and might as well be flukes. Watching him in films like Horrible Bosses (2011), The Change-Up (2011) and The Switch (2010) it is hard to believe it is the same man who excelled in the likes of Juno (2007) and Arrested Development. The major problem with his latest film, Identity Theft is that it appears good on paper thanks to Bateman’s presence and that of his co-star Melissa McCarthy. After her scene stealing role in Bridesmaids (2012) McCarthy is pretty hot Hollywood property and any film starring this much comic potential sounds as though it can’t fail.
As those shrewd few out there may be able to tell, Identity Thief concerns itself with the slightly au fait topic of identity theft. McCarthy plays a trashy con artist who lives the life of luxury in Florida thanks to the naive victims she manages to dupe. The opening scene sees her easily gain access to the personal information of Bateman’s accountant Sandy Bigelow who enjoys a simple existence in Denver with his wife (Amanda Peet) and his two daughters. A happy life that is troubled by his selfish boss (Jon Favreau).
After finally having enough of their awful situation, Sandy’s colleagues take matters into their own hands and start their own company. Being drawn in by the promise of a better salary and a better title, Sandy’s life finally seems perfect. Until, that is, he begins to find himself in financial trouble and fighting criminal charges for skipping a court date. Of course, it takes the police no time at all to discover that they have the wrong man but apparently that is all the help they can offer.
For that is the major flaw of Identity Thief. Whilst normal people would turn to the proper authorities to help them solve this type of problem, Sandy instead takes the vigilante route and chases the woman who is ruining his life to Florida. Buoyed on by his new boss’ unwillingness to sympathise with his situation, his plan is to track her down and somehow convince her to come back with him to unwittingly give the police a taped confession of her crime. Now you mention it, that does sound much easier than waiting for the police to do what they’re supposed to.
Written by Craig Mazin, who has two Scary Movie sequels, two sequels to the infuriatingly popular The Hangover, and Superhero Movie as evidence of his credentials, Identity Thief‘s script is one of the stupidest, laziest and most confused film plots to come out of Hollywood recently. Playing out as a weird mash-up of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Midnight Run, we must follow the predictable plot of an odd couple trying to make their way across America whilst dealing with all of the obstacles that get in their way.
Mazin was clearly a little out of control during his writing process as he never really knows when enough is enough. He keeps breaking off from the already dull and totally flawed main plot to add unnecessary and unfinished subplots to bring up his running time. It wasn’t enough that he shoves two polar opposites in a car to see what mayhem ensues but we have to introduce grieving yet kinky cowboys, sadistic bounty hunters and dangerous gangsters out for revenge at the behest of their incarcerated mob boss. This slows down the narrative and adds nothing in terms of drama, action or laughs.
In fact, laughs is one of the majors things that this comedy is missing. Any attempts to find the humour in this awful scenario are painful and clumsy. There’s nothing clever here and everything just falls back to childish name-calling and digs about weight and appearance. I don’t know if Mazin thought hearing people mock Sandy for having a ‘girl’s name’ repeatedly would somehow make it funny but it just made me feel as though comedy had stepped back a few decades. I’m pretty easy to please on the old comedy front and can never resist a chuckle when someone falls over in front of me. However, I spent most of this film stoney faced and incredibly bored. Had it not been for the energetic and committed performances of the two leads Identity Thief would have nothing going for it.
McCarthy and Bateman do the best that they can but the characters they are given leave much to be desired. Bateman plays his typical dry, straight man but with the added bonus of being a pretty awful guy on top. It’s hard to put yourself on Sandy’s side when he’s just a fairly arrogant and mean accountant that’s just bent out of shape that his own stupidity lead to this situation.
To her credit, McCarthy throws herself into the role and brings life to an underdeveloped character. She is the only potential source of comedy and on no less than three occasions brought a slight smirk to my face. However, it is hard to understand what we are supposed to think about Diana, as she wishes to be known for most of the film. She flits between obscene, unrepentant criminal and emotionally scarred orphan who we are supposed to care about because she’s lonely. You don’t care for either of the two and there is never an opportunity where you know who to cheer for. Although, the two are both experts at their particular brand of comedy (and more often than is necessary drama) and work pretty well together. Had they been offered a better script and a tighter concept this could have been an altogether better film.