Friday, February 8, 2013

Identity Thief

Finding Something That's Ludicrous: An Awful Movie

Jason Bateman as Sandy and Melissa McCarthy as Diana in Seth Gordon's comedy "Identity Thief".  Universal Pictures

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, February 8, 2013

The year's worst film so far, Seth Gordon's comedy "Identity Thief" lacks a purpose for anything other than humiliating and making fun of its leading lady Melissa McCarthy, then insulting the moviegoer's intelligence by manipulating us with a sob story about her onscreen character to justify her incorrect behavior.  Diana (Ms. McCarthy) steals the identity of Colorado accounting executive Sandy (Jason Bateman), and she's off to the races, buying and consuming everything her fraudulent credit cards allow.  Sandy is left to take up the tab, and upon finally realizing he's been scammed, sets off to Florida to track Diana down.

"Identity Thief" diverts and distracts itself with strange, ill-fitting side plots featuring characters that show up out of nowhere, unnecessarily padding the film's two-hour running time.  Watching the film -- at no point did I laugh during it -- is an excruciatingly painful experience.  "How much worse can this possibly get?", I said to myself, with my head in my hands, about an hour in.  (I literally had trouble breathing as I wriggled uncomfortably in my seat.)  Some horror movies are far less forgiving.  General public audience members in attendance found this mess to be hilarious, but all I saw was a pathetic, miserable exercise in endurance and a lack of ideas from Mr. Gordon and screenwriter Craig Mazin.

Mean-spirited and meandering, "Identity Thief" doesn't have any confidence in its own environment or genre as a road trip movie.  "Due Date" (2010), far from a great movie, at least knew when to stop -- at the 90-minute mark.  Part of the torture of "Identity Thief" is its running time, careening beyond its self-indulgent length into overkill, irrelevance and sadness.  It's two hours I'll never get back.  I'd rather watch "Bullet To The Head" twice in succession than watch this stinker of a concoction.

Diana flounders around, and the film and various characters pokes fun of Ms. McCarthy's largess, which the actress herself has always seemed comfortable with, for cheap "laughs" -- and does so for more than an hour and a half before "Identity Thief" suddenly softens and turns sappy for ten minutes, dolling up Diana with a new, sparkling hairdo and black dress.  Diana reveals why she's been stealing, and the film leaves the impression that people with her status in life generally engage in crime strictly because of their station -- a dishonest assertion and an insulting one to the character, the film and the audience.  Never does "Identity Thief" give Diana a platform to feel anything, other than one fleeting glimpse of true emotion, so that her reveal at the end would even feel authentic or genuine.  Mr. Mazin's script isn't smart enough to cultivate an area for Diana to do that, allowing only for slapstick and mayhem which quickly grow tiresome.

The strangest thing about Mr. Gordon's film is that it is about finding an identity rather than taking one.  Sandy is wallowing in mediocrity before his boss (John Cho) persuades him to take a step forward to join him and breakaway to a new company.  Sandy, a married man with two daughters, himself lacks a center, and there's little for Mr. Bateman to do other than play straight man.  Mr. Bateman has been untracked with several bad movies over recent years ("The Switch", "The Change-Up"), and one only hopes that a long-awaited big screen edition of "Arrested Development" arrives, so that audiences can see Mr. Bateman's talents truly shine.

"Identity Thief" tries packing its length with positioning blacks and Latinos in brainless situations with shallow motivations (see the characters played by Genesis Rodriguez, "Man On A Ledge", "The Last Stand", and T.I. "Tip" Harris, "American Gangster".)  The aforementioned performers' appearance here doesn't make much sense.  Morris Chestnut ("Boyz N The Hood") at least does well enough not to look too foolish or out of place as a Colorado detective, playing a humorous and contained by-the-book cop.

Can't the writers of these types of Hollywood comedies come up with some real ideas?  And if the answer is no, can the writers at least enliven tried-and-true genres like road-trip comedies?  "Identity Thief" doesn't have an identity as a movie.  Granted, the cast is quite good, and as I saw the names flash across the screen at the start I expected something stronger.  Instead, "Identity Thief" as a comedy is weak coffee, and as a movie, it's stale cheese.  Eat it at your peril. 

Also with: Amanda Peet, Jon Favreau, Robert Patrick, Eric Stonestreet, Mary-Charles Jones, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, Ben Falcone.

"Identity Thief" opened today across the U.S. and Canada.  The film is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for sexual content and language.  The film's running time is one hour and 52 minutes.  

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