Identity Thief review

Currently riding high at the US box office, road trip comedy Identity Thief is far from a great night at the pictures, Simon writes...

The beauty of John Hughes’ Planes Trains And Automobiles is that, in the depths of everything he puts Steve Martin’s character through, you still care and feel sympathy for John Candy’s shower ring salesman. That’s really hard to do: by most measures, he should be the kind of character who, given how unreasonable he is at his worst, you simply want to see the back of. But you don’t, and when Martin invites him into his home at the end of the film, you can, at the very least, understand why.

Identity Thief, at the time of writing the biggest grossing comedy of 2013 in the US, never gets anywhere close. Not once. It puts at its heart a character who does unforgiveable things, and by the time an attempt at redemption comes around, you’re all but tempted to drive her to the police station yourself. She lives the high life, at the expense of someone who struggles to support their family. It was always going to be a tough sell to make the character sympathetic.

The premise is pretty straightforward. Jason Bateman is a law-abiding money man, who works some way up the greasy pole. He’s reminded of this by his company’s boss (played in a fun but all-too-brief cameo from Jon Favreau), and he’s struggling with money issues too, not least because he has a new baby on the way.

On the other side of the coin, there’s Melissa McCarthy’s fraudster. She’s quickly stolen the identity of Bateman’s character – Sandy Patterson – and is helping herself to life’s luxuries, while he struggles to save every penny.

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Within minutes, you simply can’t help but hate McCarthy’s character. She’s a strong comedy actress, but the final cut of the film simply gives you too few reasons to warm to her character in any way. The narrative as such brings Bateman and McCarthy together on a road trip that doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense, and it proves to be an ongoing exercise in Bateman’s Sandy trying to be reasonable, and McCarthy’s stolen version being vile. At times, the film then tries to skew it so that it’s Bateman we’re supposed to feel is the bad one here, but that, too, fails miserably.

Then, thrown into the mix, are an assortment of people chasing after McCarthy, including Terminator 2′s Robert Patrick. It’s all a bit of a side adventure that never really adds a great deal, sadly.

All of this would, of course, be of little consequence were the film genuinely funny. Yet this is Identity Thief‘s biggest failing. Save for some wry delivery from the always-impressive Bateman, a laugh is next to the last thing you’ll find here. One or two pratfalls aside, there’s simply precious little to laugh at, yet alone like.

We do have a bit of a rule when it comes to scoring films at Den Of Geek, in that we save five stars for something you need to drop everything to watch, and one star for cynical, lazy material such as a Big Momma’s 3, or something of that ilk. Appreciating that star ratings are arbitrary, what saves Identity Thief from the pits of one star hell are two lead performances that desperately try and make something out of next to nothing, and one or two impressive action moments director Seth Gordon choreographs near the end of the film.

For the vast majority of the time, though, this is just another Hollywood comedy content to dance in a field of shit, delivering just enough material to fill a trailer, but nowhere near enough to justify a night out at the movies. There are some talented people involved in the movie – writer Craig Mazin for one – but while it might be a big hit, Identity Thief is nowhere, nowhere near their best work.

Identity Thief is out in cinemas now.

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2 out of 5