Identity Thief fills me with a rage that few movies are capable of doing. It was so all encompassing and all consuming that I’m finding it almost impossible to not be mean about how awful it is. It’s probably the second worst studio based comedy that I have seen in my entire life, and that sadly isn’t an exaggeration. It’s a film of such stunning wrong-headedness and incompetent laziness that I find it unfathomable that it ever got lit in the first place or that no one involved with the production ever once expressed concerns that it could ever work. It isn’t even an admirable failure. Even the much maligned Movie 43 aimed higher than this bottom scraping piece of high concept rip-off garbage that’s designed only to ply money from the hands of unsuspecting moviegoers that will probably make it pretty profitable despite anything I have to say about it.
Family man and corporate accountant Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) has recently had his personal information stolen and used for fraudulent purchases by a woman in Florida (Melissa McCarthy). With his credit ruined, a new job opportunity undone because the woman had drug trade connected warrants in his name, and a child on the way, a thoroughly asinine plot to bring the woman from Florida to Denver is hatched (because for some completely unknown and BS reason the police refuse to call anyone or do anything unless she is in the city where Sandy lives) to set things right.
The most forced and unfunny forms of hilarity ensue which aren’t limited to lazy gross out gags involving McCarthy puking Midori all over unsuspecting cops, or her going about having loud sex while Bateman is forced to listen from the bathroom, or just generally being a crazed psychopath. There’s plenty of riotously unfunny banter along the lines of:
Person A: “You’re a (blank)”
Person B: “You’re a fucking (blank)!”
That’s practically every joke in this lazy and poorly directed film Seth Gordon, who actually showed some promise with the documentary King of Kong and the Bateman co-starring comedy Horrible Bosses. Here nothing at all works because the film simply exists to trot out every road movie cliché from Midnight Run to Bulletproof to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles to Nothing to Lose (from which an entire subplot is lifted with hopes no one would notice) while adding an unhealthy amount of loathsomeness to the main characters.
The point to any road movie is to have characters that people actually want to spend time with. It’s not that such a film could be made with two unlovable or unrelatable characters, but those kinds of characters are the ones that require the most development. Here, all we know about Bateman is that he has a family, a former jerk of a boss (played by a mugging Jon Favreau in a thankfully brief cameo), and that’s it. They add bits about him getting a new job and losing it, but it only prolongs an already unconscionably overlong 112 minutes even further by adding things that have no bearing on plot or character whatsoever.
This could be acceptable if Sandy was played by a leading man with even a modicum of charisma. Instead, we get Jason Bateman playing the exact same person that he plays in everything. Even as a protagonist that’s VERY laughably trying to be the surrogate for the everyman in the audience that could have this happen to them, he’s still a smarmy, snarky asshole that no one would want to see succeed. We don’t know enough about his family and their relationship to remotely care about what happens to him. Similarly, in something like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles the audience knows very little about Steve Martin’s family, but there was a person who knew comedy, in an original film without Methuselah aged gags, and with a wealth of charm and grace to go along with his simmering rage and frustration. Bateman does none of that. He can’t sell this film’s more slapstick elements. He sounds like a jerk when trying to be sincere. He delivers on-the-nose and hollow platitudes about how hard his life has become in this new economy of fat cats. Not once is anything he says even remotely funny or insightful, and the film doesn’t even seem to care that his credit rating is ruined. Bateman simply coasts here, and the fact that he produced the film simply so that he could coast becomes entirely more irksome. He’s a complete black hole devoid or anything approaching mirth.
As for McCarthy, it should be said that she is trying more than anyone to make this mess work, but the script does her such a disservice that it makes her work her more minstrel show than performance. All we know about this woman is absolutely nothing aside from the fact that she is fat, lonely, a completely irredeemable psychopath in every way, she steals people’s identities, and she punches people in the throat to get out of a scrape (which means every ten minutes or so in what still isn’t the most laboured running gag in the film). Let it be said that she’s willing to do anything for a laugh no matter how degrading or shocking, but why? She’s already so thoroughly reprehensible so why do we constantly need to have more reasons to hate her?
It’s counterintuitive because anyone who has ever seen a road movie knows that the movie is building oh so predictably towards the moment when we have to actually feel sorry for McCarthy’s character, and when it does start to happen just around the halfway point of a film that feels so long you begin to wonder if nothing got cut from it at all, it happens in such a blown off fashion that I audibly said “That’s fucking it?” in the middle of the screening. Not once is her character ever redeemed and there’s nothing she can do to save the film or make it more interesting at all.
These aren’t the only things wrong with this thing. Not a single logical choice is made by any character, but I guess that doesn’t matter when the plot itself doesn’t make any logical sense in this or any other bizzaro world. It isn’t so much edited as it is plopped together in accordance with what the shooting script must have looked like. The soundtrack relies heavily on late 90s and early 2000s hip-hop to accentuate punchlines like the movie has sat in a time capsule for over a decade. Scenes of comedic hijinks go on seemingly forever with unfunny riffing from the leads.
There are not one, but two sets of tacked on villains that add nothing but beats and pauses in the story. One is a pair of drug runners (Genesis Rodriguez and rapper T.I., both of whom deserve better than these pointless stereotypes, but are still oddly the most interesting characters in the film) who got taken for a ride by McCarthy’s forger in a plot point that never once gets resolved, let alone explained at all. The other comes in the form of Robert Patrick as quite possibly the least threatening approximation of a badass bounty hunter in cinematic history. Patrick can play a heavy, but no one involved with the production seems to know if he should be played for laughs or for scares. None of that matters in the end because Patrick is a complete null set that isn’t given a single thing to do and his character ultimately goes nowhere.
It might seem strange to get worked up over a film like this, but since it’s likely to make a decent chunk of money it becomes even more depressing how lazy it all is. It’s thoroughly offensive just how low the movie sets it’s own bar before setting it ablaze and not even bothering to piss to put it out. Audiences deserve better than this depressing excuse for a “comedy.” As critics, we tend to argue way too much about the merits and demerits of films that can be seen as artful, and not nearly enough about the things average audiences are subjected to on a daily basis. I was told after the screening I was getting bent out of shape about a movie that was essentially nothing, but so many people are going to pay for this thing that I think is LESS that nothing, that I can’t think of a better way to react to it. I’m honestly sad just thinking about the whole thing at all.
Cast: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy
Directed by: Seth Gordon
Top image: A scene from Identity Thief. Courtesy Universal Pictures.