Identity Thief review

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Review Ron Hogan 11 Feb 2013 - 06:55

Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman headline Identity Thief, the new comedy from the director Horrible Bosses...

Sandy Bigelow Patterson (Jason Bateman) is a man with a good job, a loving wife, two beautiful daughters with a third on the way, and a pretty good life. He's kind of stepped on at work, but who isn't? He's got plans for his future, though, and that's to crawl his way up the corporate ladder. However, there are some complications with that future plan. Namely, Sandy Bigelow Patterson (Melissa McCarthy). Or, perhaps, Diana. Or, perhaps, Marla. Well, whatever her current alias, her real name remains a mystery, so we'll just call her Nameless.

Nameless is a professional credit card thief. She runs up a big bill at the expense of an unwitting person, she makes phone calls and assaults bartenders, and she makes Sandy's life a living hell thanks to her exploits and antics. When Nameless's actions put Sandy's life at risk, he realizes there's only one way to put an end to Nameless's trail of credit card receipts and mangled credit ratings. He has to track her down and drag her back to Colorado from her home in Winter Park, Florida.

As it turns out, Nameless is a wanted woman, in more ways than one. With gangsters on one side and a bounty hunter on the other, it's clear that the two Sandy Bigelow Pattersons may not even be able to survive, let alone clear Sandy's name for you for free. Cue the cross-country road trip.

Identity Thief is sold on the strength of its two leads. As a road movie, you kind of have to have good people in the main roles because they're going to be on screen for a long time and have to hold the audience. In Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy, you have two such people. Bateman, of course, was the lead of the ensemble of Arrested Development and has that kind of dry, straight man presence that works with someone like McCarthy to bounce off of. As for McCarthy, she stole scene after scene from better-known actors in Bridesmaids, and she's the main draw here (indeed, the movie was rewritten for a woman after McCarthy's turn in Bridesmaids). She's a really good comic actress, even when she's not wearing a crazy wig and covered in Tammy Faye Bakker clown makeup.

The script gives McCarthy ample opportunities to show off her skills. She carries the comic weight but also carries a lot of the dramatic weight as well. Given that her character is a hopeless liar, she's able to spin multiple stories to multiple people, and that allows the talented actress behind the talented actress to really impress with her skills, demonstrating strong comic timing, and a keen eye for drama. She's great, but the movie ends up being uneven, which might have something to do to with screenwriter Craig Mazin. There are big gaps in the laughs when the script turns dangerously maudlin; the inconsistency makes it difficult to identify with McCarthy's character as well.

Director Seth Gordon is great at turning real-life drama into entertaining documentaries, but he's not had much luck with big-screen comedies. Between the disappointing Horrible Bosses and the unmentionable Four Christmases, he seems to not be able to make the transition into scripted films. The script isn't helping, either. The pacing is good and most of the scenes stop at a good time, but there are a few too many false beats in the film, a few too many moments where it looks like characters are going to be redeemed but then don't because the film needs to squeeze a few more jokes out of them.

Still, that seems to be a little nit-picky of me. The movie's cast is brilliant, and the two leads can overcome a lot of weaker material with the assistance of good supporting players like Robert Patrick, Eric Stonestreet, and Jon Favreau (all of whom needed more screen time). Identity Thief's jokes landed about half the time, or maybe a little less, but when they do hit it's worth it, and even when they don't land it's still kind of charming in a shambling way.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan hopes his identity never gets stolen, even if it leads to hijinks with a funny con artist. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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