Saturday 30 March 2013

Movie Review: Identity Thief (2013)

A light-weight comedy, Identity Thief finds a few laugh but spends too much time in unfunny oafish territory.

Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) is a lowly financial officer at a large bank in Denver, terrorized by his boss Harold Cornish (Jon Favreau) and barely earning enough to provide for his pregnant wife Trish (Amanda Peet) and two young daughters. Just when he decides to make a promising career move, things get a lot worse when the crude, overweight and overbearing Diana (Melissa McCarthy), who lives in Florida, remotely steals his identity, creates fraudulent copies of all his credit cards, and goes on a wild shopping spree.

With his life and reputation in tatters due to Diana's antics, and stymied by the slow-moving enforcement process, Sandy decides to travel himself to Florida, find Diana, and bring her back to Denver to force a confession. Sandy does find Diana but nothing else unfolds according to plan. Since they are now both called Sandy Patterson, they decide against flying, and instead opt for a slow cross-country drive. And to complicate matters considerably, Diana is also the target of assassins Marisol and Julian (Genesis Rodriguez and T.I.) working for an organized credit card fraud cartel, and no-nonsense bounty hunter Skiptracer (Robert Patrick).

Identity Thief has the considerable propelling power of Melissa McCarthy behind it, but little else. The film oscillates between a few peaks and many valleys according to McCarthy's comic antics. McCarthy stole many parts of Bridesmaids (2011) where her secondary character had plenty of support in delivering the laughs. Here asked to carry the full comic load, she buckles frequently.

On the few occasions when she hits her targets, Identity Thief is a reasonably funny road movie. But when McCarthy veers towards drudging repetition (how many times is punching someone in the neck supposed to be funny) or just low class vulgarity (really tasteless supposedly suggestive dance floor moves followed by a flat sexual ecstasy simulation scene with a stranger), the film stumbles badly.

In comparison, Jason Bateman is a relatively blank slate playing his typical reactive persona where others cause him pain or discomfort. Here Sandy Patterson may be initiating the transportation of Diana from Florida to Denver, but really it is Diana who is calling all the shots and getting the pair of them in and out of trouble. Bateman mostly just plays along, swept up in McCarthy's sizable slipstream.

Director Seth Gordon tries to squeeze some typical road movie journey-of-discovery type lessons, and at a relatively superficial level, Sandy's rage against Diana turns to some sympathy as he learns of her difficult childhood, while Diana develops a bit of a conscience as she comes face to face with one of her victims and his family. It's all rather platitudinous and predictable, as Identity Theft meanders on the highway of reasonable ideas, getting frequently lost.

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