Identity Thief, Nick Allen Review

Melissa McCarthy, we don't blame you . . .

It’s not so much that Identity Thief sucks, but that it’s like a piece of trash being blown into your face during a somber march of defeat, having lost to the oppressive overpowering of clichés, lazy storytelling and worst of all, the hollow value of a cheap laugh. The movie’s intent as a premiere vehicle for its rising star Melissa McCarthy gives more weight to the idea that star power in Hollywood is not so much a craft of originality, but of taking clichés and somehow making them your own. No matter the promise of a Hollywood star, even if it’s someone as fresh as McCarthy, who provided unique eccentricity and good acting to her Oscar-nominated role in Bridesmaids, eventually stars will have their charisma tested by how well can they can recycle material. But isn’t McCarthy a bit too fresh to already be making a film as bad as this? Couldn’t this have waited for at least five more years?

In the film Jason Bateman plays Sandy Patterson, an average American schmuck with a crummy job working for a horrible boss (Jon Favreau). He and his coworkers (led by John Cho) decide to leave their positions at this job and start a new firm, where they’ll be earning more money. However, Patterson’s new financial venture is stilted by his suddenly poor credit score, his disappearing bank account and a criminal record in Florida; someone has stolen his identity. 

That title thief is played by Melissa McCarthy, with a character that goes by multiple names, so let’s just call her “Diana.” Diana is as eccentric as she is criminally crafty, with Sandy just one of many victims of her identity stealing antics, which include making fake licenses and using plenty of illegal credit cards.

With the police essentially telling him that he is on his own, Denver resident Sandy decides he will go down to Florida himself, guided by a mug shot from “his” most recent criminal run in. When he gets to Florida, he tries to convince Diana to turn herself in, as that is the only way he will get justice and most importantly, his life back.

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Of course, Sandy’s plan to get Diana to come back to his native Denver is complicated by three problems: a determined bounty hunter (Robert Patrick) is on her trail; a duo of gun-wielding gangsters (T.I. and Genesis Rodriguez) are stalking her as well; and Diana has her own fights against Sandy, refusing to turn herself in.

Metaphors ahead: absent a visit from Sasquatch or an episode in which Bateman unintentionally initiates a bizarre drug sequence, Identity Thief is the type of road comedy that plays out with the surprise of looking at a one-way map filled with underwhelming tourist traps. Look, on your left, a visit to the raunchy motel scene. Oh and is that what I think it is? Oh honey, look, it’s a car chase scene. Let’s see it twice. Melissa McCarthy dancing to “Milkshake” by Kelis, a song predominantly featured in movies from almost ten years ago? I am going to buy a commemorative mug. 

On top of this, there are a couple of appearances from little pit stops that are unexpected, at least for someone who hasn’t seen the trailer. But it’s not like the inclusion of T.I. & Genesis Rodriguez and Robert Patrick is surprising, it’s more as if it wasn’t even worthy of being on the map; they’re the “World’s 6th Largest Mac and Cheese Box” in the context of an already miserable journey. Their characters are simply in place to make the trip longer and provide the facade that a “busier” trip somehow makes up for how centrally boring the entire endeavor is.

While Identity Thief is not the creation of clever storytelling, it is at least the composite of promising casting. The clash of eccentricity vs. blandness, of McCarthy vs. Bateman is a pairing with solid enough matching persona, if even for the sole mission of crafting an alluring poster, etc. As we saw with her performance in Bridesmaids, McCarthy knows her way around a character’s eccentricities and here she make this Orange Julius-sipping sociopath of the QVC set appear to be the character with the most entertainment value. This doesn’t turn out to be the case, as Diana wears on us quickly (especially when the script abuses McCarthy’s dramatic skills), as the script’s own desperate ploy to keep attention.

As for Bateman, he continues to be the straight man, the one who provides the grounding to be paraded over by a group of characters who have hyper characteristics. Bateman is another white bread, easygoing surrogate in a dysfunctional nightmare. In this round, he displays a very gentle attitude, but such is considered to be naïve, especially in a movie about the dumb things gullible people will do because of intimidating assholes (such as when Diana first garners Sandy’s info with a fake security threat or when Bateman later acts as a horrible boss himself).

The chemistry between the two works best when they are sticking to their characters’ instilled traits; too often they can be stretched to do things untrue to their personas, such as when the gentle Sandy smashes Diana in the face with an acoustic guitar during a shoehorned slapstick moment or when Diana finally wakes up to how horrible of a person she is. A laugh (maybe two) can even be found when the two are creating fake identities, which involves making up unflattering lies about each other and rely well on the performers’ comedic timing. These are fleetingly funny moments for a script that can’t think outside of clichés when it comes to joke construction.

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Identity Thief’s excuse to be a road comedy is lazy in the extreme, the useless utilization of an alarming, contemporary concept. Along with the heightened usage of online accounts (no more dollar bills in mattresses) and the daily presence of international spam scams in our inboxes, it’s as if the fate of our financial and federal identity is in the hands of servers we trust to be secure. And at the same time, the black hole that is the Internet already has more information on us than we realize; have you ever Googled yourself? Or looked up your age, name and location on WhitePages.com?

One can’t fault a movie like Identity Thief for not taking its nightmarish situation entirely seriously, but it is still aggravating to see such a concept trashed, and handled so implausibly by a script with a glaringly deficient IQ. If this were a better story, it would be able to handle the reality of the FBI’s involvement in such federal crime shenanigans and even Bateman’s credit card company would be more organized. But, Identity Thief cannot comprehend such, falling on logic that isn’t so much implausible, but distractingly stupid. When this movie was assembled in two minutes in a conference call, we can only imagine that constructing a sound story was never actually part of the conversation.

Instead of discussing the real horror of identity theft, this film preaches other facts of movie going life, which produce flashbacks to Zach Galifianakis recycling his stand up for jokes in The Hangover: Road comedies are a lazy screenwriter’s dream project; Kelis’ “Milkshake” will never die; and no comedian, however eccentric they may be, has more creative power than a cliché.

Den of Geek Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars