2013, 111mins, 15
Director: Seth Gordon
Writer: Craig Mazin
Cast includes: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Amanda Peet, Jon Favreau, Robert Patrick, John Cho
UK Release Date: 23rd March 2013
There’s no reason that “Identity Thief” couldn’t have been a rollicking farce. Its premise has potential, its director’s last film (“Horrible Bosses”) had pedigree and the central pairing of Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy sounds like a sure thing. However strutting into the fray comes screenwriter Craig Mazin (“The Hangover: Part 2”), a gentlemen with a less than stellar track-record in the genre, happily maintaining his professional standards with “Identity Thief”. The script starts as tolerable goofball fodder but degenerates gradually until an obscenely maudlin climax, with a great deal of ugliness and lack of laughter characterising what’s sandwiched in-between. Bateman and McCarthy are trying, bless ‘em, but they can’t compete with the dumb jokes and film-maker Seth Gordon’s laden sitcom touch.
Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) is a loving family man with decent aspirations in the job-market, until he’s arrested for failing to show up at a court date in Florida. It quickly transpires that Sandy has had his identity and a hefty chunk of money stolen by con-woman Diana (Melissa McCarthy), a gregarious fraudster who spends her pilfered winnings on booze, make-up and swish electronics. With the Denver PD refusing to act unless Diana is in their jurisdiction, and with his job on the line, Sandy decides to make passage to Florida and bring the criminal back himself. Unfortunately when he locates Diana, she’s less than co-operative, and what’s more has a bevy of thugs looking to exact a more violent style of revenge in tow.
I was a huge fan of Gordon’s last film, 2011’s wonderfully twisted “Horrible Bosses”, but it seems any edge that picture possessed wasn't on its director’s instruction. “Identity Thief” is a bland gambit, much more akin to Gordon’s drab festive comedy “Four Christmases”, reminding us he hasn't always been a guarantor of high quality. His direction is static and unremarkable, failing to do much of any interest with the visual palette, something “Horrible Bosses” achieved with creative aplomb. That movie utilised a bevy of interesting sets, crazy onscreen text and smash-cuts to up its raucous atmosphere. By comparison “Identity Thief” might as well be a modestly budgeted TV affair. There’s just no distinction in its visual appearance whatsoever.
McCarthy and Bateman are fine and hold a reasonable chemistry, but both their characters are pathetic. McCarthy’s Diana is in particular a vile creation, deceitful, arrogant and deluded, a sociopath with no understanding of the world around her. Yet despite this Mazin’s dull script expects us to sympathise with the robbing jerk (namely on the back of a forced monologue in the final act), “Identity Thief” arriving at the conclusion that thievery and inconsiderate social etiquette are acceptable if you had a tough childhood. Maybe a better writer might have been able to pull this dubious message off, but Mazin certainly doesn't have the dramatic chops for the job. The man struggles to sell a selection of easy fat jokes and tawdry innuendos, so sophisticated tales of redemption are probably overstretching his abilities a tad.
A couple of jokes land during the predictable road-trip hubbub, although it would almost be impossible to craft a film in which Jason Bateman’s wry way with dialogue or McCarthy’s enjoyable physicality didn’t stimulate some mirth. However these instances of viewer g ratification are few and far between, “Identity Thief” eventually losing all focus to deliver an extraordinarily artificial and sappy denouement. I could say the bizarre moral stance is the movie’s most heinous crime, but I’d be lying. If the first two thirds had delivered even a handful of solid belly-laughs I would probably be pushing “Identity Thief” as a mild recommendation. However it doesn’t, so I won’t .The fact it just descends into sour, sickening treacle is merely the icing on the cake.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013