Director Seth Gordon has thus far had a pretty successful career, working on movies like Horrible Bosses, and episodes of Community, Modern Family and Parks and Recreation. Unfortunately, his latest road trip comedy Identity Thief doesn’t pack nearly the same punch, in spite of its competent stars Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy.
The story centers on Denver-based accounts rep Sandy Bigelow Patterson (Bateman), who, after being duped out of a bonus check from his vile boss (Jon Favreau), decides to quit and join a new company to support his wife (Amanda Peet) and kids. But his new job is endangered when he discovers that con artist Diana (McCarthy) has stolen his identity and racked up thousands of dollars on his account. Soon, Sandy realizes that it’s up to him to put a stop to Diana’s spending and bring her back to Denver.
In concept, the movie’s premise isn’t entirely hopeless. In fact, it’s a subject that I think is still worth exploring in a more plausible setting — and the identity theft itself is presented reasonably enough. But the story quickly devolves when a cop tells Sandy that it will likely take over a year for his case to get straightened out and Sandy’s new boss (John Cho) doles out the ever faithful race against the clock, noting, “You have one week to fix this, or you’re fired, do you hear me?”
Once Sandy finally tracks down Diana, the circumstances only get more ridiculous as they’re engaged by two assassins (Genesis Rodriguez and Tip “T.I.” Harris) and a violent bounty hunter (Robert Patrick) — and yes, their inclusion in this cross-country misadventure is about as pointless as it sounds, especially considering McCarthy, Favreau and Cho all cause plenty of friction for Bateman as it is. It’s almost as if the writer couldn’t decide who they wanted the antagonist to be, so they added a few more just in case.
More frustrating, though, is Sandy’s consistent lack of common sense when it comes to transporting this eccentric criminal from one state to another. Narratively, yes, it wouldn’t be much of a movie if McCarthy’s character wasn’t given free reign to ditch her Georgia motel and scamper over to the nearest bar for shots and dirty dancing with a portly southern tycoon (played by Eric Stonestreet). The problem is, bits like this are never funny enough to suspend your disbelief. With seldom any laughs, your patience is merely tested again and again until the events have run their course.
Without question, McCarthy commits herself to this role, and at no point does it feel like she’s not giving it her all. Sadly, the comedy is so broad and so physical that it almost makes you forget what made the actress so hysterical in Bridesmaids. Truthfully, much of her comedy is lost in this, and while she doesn’t shy away from the movie’s bigger, zanier bits, it’s these that fall the flattest. It’s really more of a testament to the poor writing than anything else. Her five-minute appearance in This is 40, for example, had more laughs than the entirety of her performance in Identity Thief. It’s no fault of McCarthy’s, but it’s too bad that her first starring role couldn’t have been more dynamic.
Meanwhile, Bateman is just as dry and bemused-looking as ever, although he usually has nothing particularly clever to say. Again, the actor probably isn’t to blame here as much as his blandly written character. Bateman has always excelled at playing the straight man amidst a bunch of schmucks, but that character only works because it hinges on the fact that he’s smarter than everyone else. In Identity Thief, we begin to realize that Sandy is no more intelligent than the rest of the shortsighted ensemble, and that’s where the character fails.Make no mistake, McCarthy is the real star of this movie, despite Bateman’s central role. But her character is so off-putting and lewd that it’s difficult to root for her. Even when Diana inevitably pours out her redemptive, heart-wrenching backstory, we feel little more than sorry for her and never really connect with her in the way that we’re supposed to with Sandy. At the end of the day, Identity Thief will probably have little trouble finding an audience, it’s just a shame that its two talented stars couldn’t elevate the abysmal material.