'Identity Thief' steals from better movies

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Movie Review

This undated publicity image released by Universal Pictures shows Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman in a scene from "Identity Thief." (Photo courtesy Universal Pictures)

Identity Thief” is exactly what you expect when you sit down to watch a road movie from the director of the mediocre “Horrible Bosses” starring Jason Bateman — yet another film where an everyman is stuffed into a car with a sociopath and something loosely resembling hijinks ensues. “Identity Thief” is the blandest possible version of that movie, seemingly assembled from bits and pieces of better films on some sort of production line for mediocre comedies.

Bateman plays Sandy Patterson, a mid-level financial worker who, in a remarkably gullible move, gives out his Social Security number over the phone to someone offering him identity theft protection. A few weeks later, Diana (Melissa McCarthy) has run up thousands of dollars of credit in his name. When local police are unhelpful and his job is put into jeopardy, Sandy sets off across the country to wrangle Diana and bring her in to answer for her crimes.

From the very beginning, “Identity Thief” strains the boundaries of credibility. Many of its characters are simple plot devices, especially the police who literally shrug and tell Sandy he’ll have to go catch a criminal on his own. Screenwriter Craig Mazin’s work has been mostly composed of the “Scary Movie” and “Hangover” sequels, and his reliance on humor over character development carries over here. Unfortunately, even though there is the occasional laugh in “Identity Thief,” it’s almost entirely because of the actors’ delivery of Mazin’s half-baked dialogue.

Director Seth Gordon made one of the documentary genre’s most enjoyable films with 2007’s “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters,” but he’s floundered in Hollywood, producing work that sternly adheres to a regimen of predictability and tonal dyslexia. Gordon’s direction is competent in that he frames his actors well and doesn’t draw too much attention to himself, but huge chunks of “Identity Thief” are utterly forgettable detours populated by an impressively
expansive cast of misused actors. There’s no originality or purpose to “Identity Thief,” and it’s hard to engage with a film when every beat is blatantly transparent.

Despite the vacuum of talent behind “Identity Thief,” both Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy try their very hardest to sell this material. Since “Bridesmaids,” Hollywood has been bending over backward to give roles to McCarthy, but her typically abrasive comedic signature turns Diana into a repulsive, deeply unsympathetic character. However, when McCarthy commits to a part, she really goes for it, and while she proves to be a reliable source of laughs throughout, she’s equally impressive in the film’s dramatic moments.

Meanwhile, Jason Bateman continues to display horrible taste in projects alongside effortlessly deadpan comedic chops. Bateman has been the leading man in a number of abysmal comedies over the last few years, and his straight-faced exasperation seems equally driven by McCarthy’s character and a desire to get into a better movie. Even so, any part of “Identity Thief” that works is thanks to McCarthy and Bateman’s alternately tender and acidic dynamic.

Without a number of other movies leaving a road map for how to tell this sort of story, “Identity Thief” wouldn’t exist. The film feels blatantly manufactured, its characters rarely rising above their roles as simple joke delivery mechanisms. “Identity Thief” will likely go down in history as a flavorless product existing solely to give its cast and crew something to do, as a film that cribs so ruthlessly from its predecessors that it’s blissfully unaware of just how accurate its title is.

Published on February 8, 2013 as "Identity Theif lacks own identity".