We’ve all seen “Identity Thief” before. In the past it was called “Midnight Run,” “Nothing to Lose,” and more recently it was released as “The Guilt Trip” with Seth Rogen and Barbara Streisand. I have seen too many of these buddy/road movies to really enjoy them anymore. Two mismatched people travelling from state to state together who start off hating one another and then eventually become friends? That kind of movie is now old, old, old and the filmmakers and actors are unable to bring anything new or fresh to the material here.
Jason Bateman stars as Sandy Patterson, a mild-mannered Colorado businessman with a loving wife (played by Amanda Peet) and two adorable children. But all of a sudden his life gets turned upside down when he discovers his credit cards have been maxed out and his life savings has vanished. It turns out his identity was stolen by a woman named Diana (Melissa McCarthy), and we see her living large with Sandy’s money as she shops for an obscene amount of stuff (like a jet ski) and buys drinks for just about everybody at a trendy nightclub. To clear his name and have his credit restored, Sandy ends up tracking down Diana in Florida and intends to bring her back to Colorado to face the authorities. Of course, nothing goes quite as planned (and if it did there wouldn’t be a movie).
My heart sunk when it turned out that this was going to be another road movie. I was hoping for it to be something different like a cat and mouse game between Bateman and McCarthy as they tried to outwit each other or maybe it could have been a satire on all these legal thrillers we all grew up watching. But to see it be another road movie felt dispiriting because any sense of originality this genre once had is now pretty much gone.
The other big problem is that I didn’t buy the evolving relationship between Sandy and Diana. The subject of identity theft is a very touchy one in today’s society, and I somehow doubt that Sandy could have been that successful in getting Diana to come back with him so that she could take responsibility for her crimes. I also didn’t buy that these two could become friends by the movie’s end. Sure anything’s possible, but I find it hard to believe that anyone can find a common ground with someone who stole their identity for their own personal benefit as they clearly have given no thought to the livelihood they are thoughtlessly destroying.
“Identity Thief” also has a story that defies logic in a lot of ways. There’s no way Sandy could have trusted Diana to stick with him, and she had a whole bunch of chances to run away from him. There’s also a scene where Diana involves Sandy in one of her criminal schemes, and it is just ludicrous because there’s no believable way for him to sink down to her level so easily. To put it mildly, Craig Mazin’s screenplay has a number of problems.
As with “Midnight Run,” “Identity Thief” has a whole bunch of other people in pursuing Diana which does makes sense as people like her never have a shortage of enemies. Rapper T.I. and Genesis Rodríguez play bounty hunters who work for a jailed crime boss whom Diana owes quite a bit of money, and Robert Patrick plays a skip tracer who is very twisted and loves to frighten people to get the information he needs. But all these characters feel like such throwaways with no real connection to the plot. For Patrick, this role seems like such a missed opportunity as I kept wanting him to spoof his character from “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” just like he did in “Wayne’s World.” As for T.I. and Rodríguez, they look appropriately bad ass but are just wasted here.
What “Identity Thief” does have going for it are its two stars: Bateman and McCarthy. They are two of the best comedic actors working in movies today, and they are always likable even in the worst films they appear in. Bateman is always engaging and gleefully self-deprecating no matter whom he plays, and he does look like he’s having fun here. His big scene comes when a rather large snake ends up curling itself around his neck, and it’s worth watching for the priceless expressions that come across his face. Of course, there was a similar scene in “Nothing to Lose” where a spider crawled all over Tim Robbins’ head, but the one in “Identity Thief” threatens to easily outdo it despite the obvious use of CGI effects.
But the person who does make this movie almost worth seeing despite its numerous problems is McCarthy. Her performance in “Bridesmaids” was no fluke, and it would have been so cool to see her win the Oscar for Supporting Actress. Since then she continues to prove that she is a comedic fireball in both film and television (check out the end credits for “This is 40”), and while the relationship between her and Bateman’s character is improbable, she does a very good job in humanizing a person we would otherwise be quick to despise. Her scenes with Eric Stonestreet (who plays Big Chuck) and Peet are among “Identity Thief’s” few bright spots, and there’s no forgetting her discussion about the “Bermuda Triangle.”
Directing “Identity Thief” is Seth Gordon who previously directed Bateman in “Horrible Bosses” and is still best known for his documentary “King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.” Gordon does what he can with the deeply flawed screenplay, but even though he gets a few genuinely good moments on film, there’s not really a whole lot holding this story together. Gordon must have known that this is the kind of movie that has been made hundreds of times, but he is unable to lift the material out of the ordinary despite the presence of a game cast of gifted comic actors.
Maybe it’s too much to ask filmmakers to reinvent the wheel so to speak on comedy movies like this, but it would help as this territory has been visited so many times and we are all overly familiar with the landscape. It’s no longer enough to have actors as talented as Bateman and McCarthy in your movie if the script doesn’t work. “Identity Thief” does have its moments, but not nearly enough of them to sustain a feature length comedy.