'Identity Thief' steals all the laziest gags from better films

Melissa McCarthy in "Identity Thief." BY UNIVERSAL PICTURES
February 17, 2013

There’s either a bitter irony or a brilliant marketing move behind the title of the film “Identity Thief,” in that it is a film that not only steals from other, more competent, films, but by the end it wants us to believe it’s something entirely different.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where the wheels fly off of this road-trip comedy, as there are just so many scenes from which to choose. Maybe it was the running gag of Jason Bateman’s character being named Sandy? I hope you are laughing at that in preparation of seeing it because it’s a go-to gag at least three times during the film. Perhaps it was the multiple attempts to “humanize” the rapacious troll of a character (whose name we later learn is Diana) who steals and ruins Sandy’s life (she’s played by Melissa McCarthy, who deserves so much better than this). Or maybe it’s just the string of forced zaniness that is supposed to pass for hilarity, but is just punishingly tiresome.

Director Seth Gordon last gave us the amusing “Horrible Bosses,” which was over the top in all the right ways. In “Thief,” he gives the potential setups, but is content to stop there. The film goes for all the laziest gags (I cannot decide whether the writer really hates or really loves penises, but he certainly uses them for the majority of “Identity Thief” humor), random outbursts of violence and random car crashes. But things come to a skidding halt when the film tries to make us care for Diana, as if she’s some misguided soul who just needs a hug or two.

McCarthy has proven in “Bridesmaids” that she’s got the chops to be more than the Chubby Chick Doing Pratfalls, but, depending on the scene, she’s supposed to be a sociopathic criminal, a fun-loving party gal, a skilled mastermind or a broken-winged saint. There is absolutely no consistency to her character whatsoever. Bateman fares no better. His character has had his life utterly destroyed by this noxious cretin of a woman, but he’s not above stealing another’s identity in a pinch, and actually ends up bonding with her quicker than Gorilla Glue.

In fact, there’s no end to the comic talent wasted: Amanda Peet plays Sandy’s loving, trusting wife who offers nothing but support for her husband’s half-assed attempt to personally track down his nemesis; Eric Stonestreet (of TV’s “Modern Family”) is a bloated, sex-starved hillbilly who is anxious to bed Diana; and John Cho (Harold of Harold and Kumar) plays Sandy’s straight-edged boss. There’s also a half-cooked, barely defined subplot of bounty hunters and stereotypical criminals who seem to exhaust an unbelievable amount of manpower and resources to stop this day-glo-haired woman. It’s all been grafted together from better films like “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and “Midnight Run,” with little concern as to why everyone behaves as they do.

When Diana is ultimately brought back to face the collateral damage of her behavior, she’s invited into Sandy’s family as if she’s a long-lost zany aunt who’s in town to regale everyone with tales of her wild Florida vacation.

While McCarthy demonstrates she’s bound for better things, it’s Bateman (who also serves as a producer) whose film career is in arrested development after such other stinkers as “The Switch,” and “The Change-Up,” and now this. Here’s hoping that his return to a certain beloved TV show can give him his comedic identity back.

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