IDENTITY THIEF Review

It is a tough world for comedies in this critical world. Whereas it seems to be much harder to pull off genuine laughs than it does a satisfying drama it also makes it that much more obvious when people aren't laughing when the complete intention is in fact that. As you've likely heard concerning the latest Jason Bateman vehicle that also features the first headlining act for Bridesmaids breakout star Melissa McCarthy, Identity Thief does a poor job of eliciting as many laughs from its audience as it has the capability to do. Here's the strange thing: I didn't hate it. Call me delusional, but I laughed a few times and had a rather average movie-going experience that dragged a bit, but wasn't unbearable. Both of these lead actors are more than charming, more than able to spin a joke, and are clearly dedicated to the material and making it work. Bateman has a knack for playing the everyman and an ear for how to deliver certain lines with lovely comedic timing. McCarthy is the opposite kind of comedian; she is loud and physical. Her character here is a perfect vehicle for her to exercise her strengths as a leading funny lady and if it weren't for her the film would have no purpose. Good news for us, McCarthy is present in almost every scene of Identity Thief and despite the strong premise (that likely has much more to offer in the way of comedy) the film quickly dissolves into a standard road trip comedy I ultimately didn't mind going along with because I love the people involved. That is my excuse with most comedies that critics tend to bash (The Watch, The Hangover Part II) and yes, I recognize their shortcomings, but I can't say I despised the film or those films for their attempts. I can appreciate Identity Thief for trying and I liked it well enough not to be angry I spent two hours with the characters.

Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) and wife Trish (Amanda Peet) become victims of identity theft.
While Identity Thief is ridiculous and sits on a premise that is so convoluted and unbelievable it is hard to understand the reasoning for what we are watching I was still able to enjoy the movie if not for anything else, but the few comedic highlights that Bateman and McCarthy bring to the table. The movie does a good job of getting down to business quickly. Within the time span of the opening credits we see McCarthy's Diana steal the gender neutral name of Bateman's Sandy Patterson. This is,a s you probably detected from the trailer, a running joke throughout the entire film that is really not funny at all and only alludes to a world full of off-putting characters that include one note turns from Jon Favreau, John Cho, and Morris Chestnut.  When Sandy does realize his identity has been stolen after being arrested and taken into custody by Chestnuts dumb Detective Reilly he is somehow forced to resolve the situation by going down to Florida and bringing Diana back himself rather than having the cops help him over the course of a year. There are no real world repercussions for the actions of any characters actions here. Once Sandy makes it to Florida and gets Diana in custody (which is made to be much more difficult than necessary and in the process degrades Sandy's intellect) we get wind of a side story involving two gangsters who are on Diana's trail for reasons unexplained and who possess little charisma or charm as they come in the form of T.I. and Genesis Rodriguez. Still, this isn't enough to sustain the nearly two hour (also unnecessary) comedy as Robert Patrick is also thrown into the mix as a bounty hunter hoping to get a pay day for returning Diana to an unknown source. The script, by Craig Mazin (The Hangover Part II) is so scatterbrained it doesn't add up to anything more than a few genuine moments that are, lucky for him, elevated by the comedic talent that has been tapped to play in these roles.  

While the script is admittedly a haphazard but there are certain scenes that function much better than the movie as a whole could have ever aspired to be. Directed by Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses) I expected the film to be better than this final result as I truly loved Bosses and found it to be one of the best comedies of 2011. Having him re-team with Bateman with the added bonus of McCarthy in a starring role and a premise ripe with opportunity, there was certainly reason to be optimistic. As said though, it is only in certain moments can we see what might truly come from a collaboration between two very talented but diverse comics. Near the dragging conclusion of the film when McCarthy and Bateman's characters sit down for a dinner that results in a heart to heart there is a clear example of why McCarthy is so good at bringing genuine emotion and heart into a movie otherwise devoid of anything close. In that moment I was able to sit back and take away something from the film, even if it was only that this movie was lucky to have her. McCarthy is such a versatile performer that she is able to pull humor out of literally any combination of words or situation. One only need watch her too brief cameo from Judd Apatow's This Is 40 (and certainly stick around for the end credits as well) as McCarthy shreds a co-star with verbal abuse that speaks volumes about the kind of character she is portraying and why it is funny in the first place. I hope that McCarthy will take her new found fame and good will she received from Bridesmaids and be able to turn it into a long career of acclaimed comedy, but she has certainly gotten off on the wrong foot with this one even if she is the best thing about it. She will be seen next alongside Sandra Bullock in The Heat which comes from Bridesmaids helmer Paul Feig and just had its release date pushed from April to June which shows serious confidence in the film from the studio and I can only hope it means equally strong confidence in McCarthy.

Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy in Seth Gordon's Identity Thief.
The state of the Hollywood comedy is not at its highest. This is clear by the lackluster reception that seems to drop even further with each release. Even prestige projects such as the aforementioned This Is 40 received harsh reviews that criticized its lack of cohesiveness and hot or miss humor. While I found it to be very honest, satisfying, funny, and experimental even brave for Apatow to try in terms of what story he was trying to tell, the majority of critics simply found it mundane. And so, if they look upon a work such as that and see it as sub par I can only imagine what they might think of comedies being pushed out the pipeline such as Identity Thief and other upcoming farce such as The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, The Hangover Part III, The Internship, and This Is The End have to look forward to. It is likely going to be more medicore reviews from critics who find the material too far below their standards to even try and have a fun, carefree time but that is only what I expect to happen and hope to be proved wrong. While I can see where most critics are coming from on Identity Thief as I myself thought the story was a mess and rather stupid I still enjoyed the film to the point where I believe a general audience would have a fun enough time and not be offended they spent money to see it. That is the appeal of the actors, that is the budget that allows car wrecks and recognizable actors in almost every role, as well as the quaint, neatly packaged ending that leaves everyone happy. It is no masterpiece, clearly very far from it, but it is a well enough distraction until we do receive a comedy everyone can agree on.