2/14/2013 - Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy defy logic by not making you laugh in Identity Thief, a study of forced hilarity.
Sandy Patterson (Bateman) is a put-upon middle manager just trying to work hard, play by the rules and make a better life for his family in Denver. “Sandy Patterson,” or at least cards baring that name wielded by Diana (McCarthy), a con artist, is living it up — spending thousands on a car, jet ski, many identical blenders in Florida. Only when the real Sandy, finally about to get his break and serve as VP of a scrappy startup, has a credit check does he find out the extent to which “Sandy” has ruined his credit and even his good name (a failure to appear in court means that there is technically a warrant out for Sandy’s arrest). Desperate to get his name, his credit and his job back — his new boss (John Cho) is about to fire him because how can clients trust a financial officer with credit problems this bad — Sandy makes a deal with his boss and the cops: let me find this other Sandy and bring her in. His plan is to go to Florida and trick her in to coming to Denver by telling her she just has to explain his situation to his boss, no cops. This is, of course, a terrible plan but because Diana is also being hunted by henchmen (T.I. and Genesis Rodriguez) for a crimelord and because this improbable road trip is what is driving this story, she agrees and Sandy and Diana hit the highway headed west. With killers on their trail, the trip does not go smoothly — and that’s before a skiptracer (Robert Patrick) shows up looking to bring in Diana for bad debts.
So as you can see, there is no way to make this story make sense in the real world. People might get food poisoning while trying on wedding dresses but nobody is going to hunt down the person who stole their identity and then take a multi-day road trip with them. There is so much “zany situation” happening here that it starts to use up all the oxygen in the room. So instead of Bateman and McCarthy being the drivers of the funny, we get a lot of “oh no, it’s a snake!” — which makes me feel tired, like, deep in my core, in a way I usually associate with having the flu. Bateman and McCarthy — both playing variants of characters they’ve played before, the responsible uptight guy and the big-personality wacky lady — are people who you suspect would be simply entertaining to be in a room with. “You’re an angry mom who hates that lady’s hair” is pretty much all the direction I’m guessing McCarthy got in This Is 40 and her scenes are some of the funniest in the movie. It’s like this movie worked to keep Bateman and McCarthy from being funny, yanking us back into contrived nonsense whenever character development or humor based on some genuine, recognizably human emotion or event was in danger of taking place.
In particular, the movie didn’t seem to know how to use McCarthy. Physical comedy? Hidden heart-of-gold? Raunch? Wacky fat lady humor (that part being especially wearying)? So the movie tries all of these things, usually jumbled together in a way that doesn’t remotely fit together, like puzzle pieces pounded and smashed into each other. Every now and then we get a glimpse of something — how Diana uses shopping and all of the stuff to make her feel connected to the world, for example. But the movie always goes for the cheap joke or the tidy emotional resolution over the messiness that a story like this really calls for.There is a good comedy, probably several good comedies, to be made with McCarthy as an unconventional star. Please, somebody, make that movie, and we can forget this goofiness ever happened. C-
Rated R for sexual content and language. Directed by Seth Gordon with a screenplay by Craig Mazin and a story by Jerry Eeten and Craig Mazin, Identity Thief is an hour and 52 minutes long and is distributed by Universal Pictures.