Published on February 10th, 2013 | by Ernie Estrella1
Identity Thief – Killing Crime (and Comedy) with Kindness
Many crimes leave the victim feeling violated, but there are few that are as frustrating as identity theft. In this current world of plastic money and vast supplies of personal information online, many crooks don’t even have to leave their home to ravage one’s life. A few key pieces of information are keys to your financial vault and it could take weeks or even months before the victims take notice. Craig Mazin (The Hangover II) and Jerry Eeten found a story using identity theft as the backdrop to answer the question, can kindness cure all?
Jason Bateman is Sandy Patterson, an accounts executive at a large bank who has his identity stolen and life flipped upside down. His wife (Amanda Peet) is pregnant with their third child and they are barely making ends meet. Once his credit cards get rejected, Patterson gets hassled by the authorities that he’s guilty of credit card scams. Looking to clear his name to save his new high-paying job, Patterson takes an ill-advised trip to Florida and try to convince the real criminal to come back with him to Colorado and confess. Even though he lacks any backbone in his profession, Sandy’s going to track down a known felon and drag her across the country and turn herself in. If it sounds absurd, that’s okay, because it is.
The crook’s name is Diana, played by Melissa McCarthy, and she is underestimated by Sandy in every scene because of her trashy appearance and less than threatening stature, but she’s a quick thinker, a fighter and an expert liar. Let’s not give her too much credit though, because she is also a bully, a sociopath and a just rotten person on the inside. Diana would’ve made Sandy’s sketchy plan more difficult if henchmen weren’t out to kill her for selling bogus credit cards to a crime lord. If that wasn’t enough, a bounty hunter comes out of nowhere looking for Diana and Sandy is there to bail her out.
Supporting characters in Sandy’s life are just as despicable. Jon Favreau drives thru the film to be Sandy’s horrible boss, and his most trusted friend, Daniel, played by John Cho lures him away from his secure, albeit dead end job and is ready to dump him without giving Sandy the benefit of the doubt. Sandy is either good enough to be senior executive who is the best at what he does one minute or an embarrassing liability the next. With co-workers like this, why wouldn’t he spend a week with a criminal? Robert Patrick, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Morris Chestnut, and Genesis Rodriguez round out the rest of the generic characters found at the bottom of a box of Cracker Jacks. The only mildly interesting character is Eric Stonestreet’s Big Chuck, who Sandy and Diana meet in the middle of their trek to Colorado.
As highly implausible as this story sounds, what’s most bothersome is that we’ve seen Bateman and McCarthy in these roles before in better stories. Bateman has made a career out of playing the nice guy who gets walked on but Sandy Patterson is as plain and gullible as they come. It’s not easy to embrace a guy who’s so straight and so clean cut. At least in Juno Bateman’s nice guy character made an odd connection to the lead character and ultimately didn’t see eye to eye with his baby-fevered wife. Sandy’s biggest flaw and attribute is his kindness; he’s in this situation because he wasn’t more cautious or more assertive and halfway through the film you’re almost glad someone that sickeningly nice got screwed because he never learns. Bateman is required to do nothing in this role except catch whatever pitches McCarthy’s Diana throws his way. And though she’s never been as ruthless or lacked so much compassion as Diana, McCarthy played a similar character build in Bridesmaids as a me-against-the-world character who is overshadowed by her lack of tact. However, she was more effective with less screen time there and Identity Thief easily crosses the threshold an audience can take of such an indecent character.
Seth Gordon directed Identity Thief, his follow up to the much more amusing Horrible Bosses and failed to get geeky heist show, Breakin In off the ground (twice). Sadly though, Identity Thief is another project to come up short, adding nothing new to the played out road comedy. Every bad scenario that could be imagined, happens like another sequel to Dumb and Dumber. Eye-rolling sex jokes, unfunny Tom-and-Jerry violence, and an endless supply of jokes about Sandy’s unisex name undermine any attempts to humanize Diana. The few laughs that are truly earned belong to McCarthy, who continues to show her talent in physical comedy, but outside of those few moments, Identity Thief is another bloated (112 minutes!), below average, prefabricated comedy.