Identity Thief

She's stolen all the laughs, too

Identity Thief

Rating Identity ThiefIdentity ThiefIdentity ThiefIdentity Thief

Directed by Seth Gordon. Starring Melissa McCarthy, Jason Bateman, Amanda Peet, Kevin Covais, Andrea Moore, Jon Favreau, Tip Harris, John Cho, Clark Duke, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, Justin Wheelon, Cullen Moss, Morris Chestnut, Genesis Rodriguez, Robert Patrick. Written by Craig Mazin.

Great premise, good performers, solid direction…where did Identity Thief go wrong? This is one of those films that seems to be simmering on low heat for its entire running time; the characters are (reasonably) likable, the craft is there, the film doesn’t do anything wrong, per se, but ultimately it just doesn’t work on the comedic level that it ought to. 

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Director Seth Rogan struck gold with the Donkey Kong documentary The King of Kong, struck out with Four Christmases, and found his groove again with the genuinely funny Horrible Bosses. But Identity Thief just doesn’t have the laughs, and I’m not sure there’s a single scripted joke in the entire film; Craig Mazin’s screenplay may as well have been conceived as a drama which has just been played loud and broad.

It’s Midnight Run meets Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, but I’d recommend rewatching either of those instead. Jason Bateman stars as Denver-based businessman Sandy Patterson, and oh boy, I hope you find the ‘unisex’ name Sandy just hilarious; that’s where most of the humor in this film begins and ends.

The name also serves as the plot’s jumping off point, allowing Miami conwoman Diane (Melissa McCarthy) to steal Sandy’s identity, empty his accounts, and accrue thousands of dollars of debt in his name. By the time Sandy realizes what’s going on, he’s been arrested and is about to lose his job. 

But Diane’s not too careful about leaving traces of her actions, and Sandy knows exactly where she is. You’d think that would be enough for him to turn her in and clear his name, but complex (and credibility-stretching, but let’s go with it) plot mechanics require Sandy to travel to Miami himself and haul Diane back to Denver, saving his job and turning her into Denver P.D.

That’s a good-enough starting off point, and Identity Thief spices things up with a talented cast that includes Jon Favreau as Sandy’s ex-boss, John Cho as his current boss, Amanda Peet as his wife, Robert Patrick as a bounty hunter on Diane’s trail, and T.I. and Genesis Rodriguez as two criminals after her for reasons that have slipped my mind, or weren’t clearly explained in the first place (Jonathan Banks, Breaking Bad‘s Mike Ehrmantraut, shows up uncredited as their boss.)

The film unfolds in coherent, well-paced fashion (the long-ish 111-minute running time is never a problem), and we’re mildly entertained from start to finish. That might be enough for some audiences, but this just ain’t very funny, and it’s played too broad to work as drama, either. It’s all rather…flat, though it works on that level, and it’s never offensively bad. 

But comedy is hard. It’s harder when you don’t know how to write a joke. The screenplay seems to invoke the Adam Sandler school of point-and-laugh comedy; it’s funny because she’s obnoxious, or it’s funny because he’s gullible, but it’s never funny because of a setup-payoff joke. That’s bad enough, even though director Gordon downplays the point-and-laugh angle, but because we actually come to care about these characters, the final half hour of the movie is devoid of any humor whatsoever. 

At least we come to care about the characters. I feel kind of bad trashing Identity Thief; I really like both Bateman (Arrested Development) and McCarthy (Bridesmaids), and Gordon does a good-enough job with the material. That material, however, really lets the whole project down. The end result is watchable, but should have been so much more.

Also opening: 

  • Jedlíci aneb Sto kilo lásky (showtimes), a comedy from director Tomáš Magnusek (Bastardi). Screening in Czech.


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