Monday, March 4, 2013

I’m The Stick In The Mud At Identity Thief

The Good: Moments of humor, Moments of character
The Bad: Exceptionally predictable plot and character arcs, Repetitive (unsuccessful) jokes, No superlative performances, Pacing
The Basics: Entirely predictable and surprisingly boring, Identity Thief is an unenduring comedy.

Tonight was date night. After a few weeks of procrastinating, I took my wife out to the movie of her choice, which was Identity Thief. She is a fan of comedies, Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy. I’ve been a fan of Melissa McCarthy since Gilmore Girls (reviewed here!) and I was thrilled to see her have a real breakout in the mass pop culture with Bridesmaids (reviewed here!). Unfortunately, Identity Thief breaks her streak. I might be the exception to the rule, but for as much as my wife laughed throughout the movie and for as much as people after the showing we went to tonight seemed to be talking the film up, I noticed there were very few instances of sustained, collective laughter in the theater tonight.

I think it is because Identity Thief is not actually all that funny. We watched the film in anticipation for humor that never truly broke out and while there were one or two surprises, Identity Thief more often goes for the lamest jokes possible. Identity Thief is not even particularly crude – outside a sex scene between Melissa McCarthy’s Diana and Eric Stonestreet’s Big Chuck – it’s just not funny. So, for example, in the first half hour, virtually every character that Jason Bateman’s Sandy Patterson meets, comments on how he has a girl’s name. Really? That’s the best you’ve got writer Craig Mazin?! The only really funny recurring joke is the repeated throat punches from Diana to characters throughout the flick. Outside that, most of the humor comes from Bateman’s usual understated delivery and the rest of the movie is essentially one, drawn out hour and a half long fat joke (there is an additional half hour to the film that is, admittedly, not just a fat joke). Viewers deserve better.

Opening with Diana calling financial wizard Sandy Patterson and “enrolling” him in a fraud protection service for his credit card (while, in fact, duplicating his credit cards to max them out), Sandy joins his friends and co-workers in turning their back on the financial management firm they work for to strike it out on their own. But Sandy’s first day working with Daniel is turned upside down when a routine traffic stop (while he is on his cell phone with his credit card company) turns into an arrest and interrogation for a drunk and disorderly that Diana as Sandy has failed to appear for in Florida. When the police are particularly incompetent at delivering results, Sandy hatches a plan to go down to Florida to get the “other” Sandy and bring her back to confess to his boss, so the police can apprehend her.

Sandy finds his identity thief remarkably quickly and after a fight on the highway and at her house, bounty hunters who are hunting her for drug-related crimes attack and the two find themselves on the run together. Pursued by police and bounty hunters, the pair begins a cross-country trip from Florida to Denver going through all their cash, multiple cars, and several cars and growing closer for their shared struggles.

Identity Thief is written as one of the most painfully predictable movies I have seen of late. The road trip/shared struggle/opposites attract themes are so overdone that almost all of the reversals can be called in the first few minutes. Even Sandy taking a stroll on the dark side by using his ex-boss’s identity to get cash is not entirely unforeseen. In fact, the more I consider Identity Thief, the more it reminds me – especially with its violent reversals – of Date Night (reviewed here!), except in this incarnation of the basic plot, the characters are not working to get back together and the mistaken identity aspect is a misappropriated identity issue.

The characters in Identity Thief are more “types” than individuals. Diana is a thoroughly predictable con artist and Sandy is a straightlaced foil character who comes to appreciate some of what she has gone through simply by spending time with her. Identity Thief might have actually been funnier had Sandy actually stuck to his righteous indignation and let the comedy come from Diana spinning her wheels trying to escape and rationalize. Alas, that is not this film. Instead, the story meanders from one pointless encounter to another (though the scene with the snake is delightfully gruesome for delivering a real comedic punch) until the inevitable and obvious resolution.

Jason Bateman is playing within his niche, as is Melissa McCarthy. Neither one presents anything viewers have not seen from them before. Eric Stonestreet’s appearance as Big Chuck actually begins feeling different and audacious for him, but the moment he removes his hat, the character changes into something painfully familiar for his fans.

That actually seems to be the bane of Identity Thief; it’s entirely predictable, structured, and familiar. The violence is not over the top so it never becomes truly unpleasant for the viewer to watch the comic mayhem unfolding, but the chaos is hardly all that funny. While I thoroughly acknowledge that the film has been tearing it up at the box office, it seems more like success built on the winter blahs than on any actual quality in the film. In fact, given that my wife – who loves this style of humor and enjoyed Identity Thief - mentioned pointedly that while she enjoyed the film, she did not want it for her permanent collection the moment we got into the car, Identity Thief strikes me as a flash-in-the-pan success; it’s having its heyday now, but by the time it is released on DVD and Blu-Ray those who made it so big at the box office now will have completely forgotten it.

For other works featuring Melissa McCarthy, please check out my reviews of:
The Hangover Part III
This Is 40
White Oleander
Charlie's Angels


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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