Identity Thief (2013) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Identity Thief (2013)

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More charmAndrew DISLIKE BannerIdentity Thief is horrible.  I could have guessed as much from the trailer but I was still under-prepared for exactly how low a film could sink in its effort to make an audience feel anything.  It's so bad on so many levels that no one needs to run a character assassination piece on anyone involved with the making of the film because there are plenty of moments in this film that could stand as career suicide.

The only saving grace is that only talented people could make a film this bad.  Melissa McCarthy is one of those people, riding a post-Bridesmaids level of fame into roles that seem to be giving her the opportunity to be louder and more obnoxious as the opportunity arrives (see also: the upcoming The Heat).  Identity Thief exists primarily to serve this function for her and then stumbles into drama and comedy as an afterthought.  The film doesn't succeed in any one of these capacities.

Even if you like the talent involved, this is a shallow, clueless effort with unnecessary detours and not a laugh at all in its bloated two hour run-time.  Identity Thief at least doesn't waste any time getting to the point of all this as Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) gets a call from a friendly sounding woman telling him that his identity was almost stolen.   Relieved, he decides to sign up for the free service by handing over his social security number, credit card, and remaining personal info.  Could you have possibly guessed that it was actually the scheming Diana (Melissa McCarthy) on the other line?  It doesn't matter, because soon she's spending his money and engaging in some painfully awkward physical comedy.

Like the rest of the film McCarthy's sex scene is uncomfortable and agonizingly unfunny.

Like the rest of the film McCarthy's sex scene is uncomfortable and agonizingly unfunny.

This is but the first of many mistakes the film makes in its approach to comedy.  It's strangely violent with the way Diana beats herself up in a bar and later, when Sandy tracks her down to try and salvage his reputation, is hit repeatedly with statues and a guitar.  I wasn't expecting an approach akin to The Three Stooges, but neither McCarthy nor Bateman seem up to the kind of cartoonish reactions that are needed to sell this kind of violence.  These scenes are repeated with throat punchings and, eventually, gunshots.  Which leads me to another problem.

What are guns doing in this film?  Apparently because screenwriter Craig Mazin watched a gangster film before sitting down to pen this monstrosity and decided that the mob needed to be involved.  They're after Diana, who by proxy are now after Sandy since he's trying to get Diana to confess.  That's already unnecessary, but Mazin adds even more pointless conflict by adding a dash of workplace tension with Sandy's coworkers leaving the business firm he works at to start a rival company.  Again, why is any of this necessary?  The stakes are low to begin with considering the police know what she looks like and that she ripped him off, but it seems the method of conflict this film prefers is stupid contrivance versus anything the characters could have brought to the table.

Mazin is the biggest reason this film doesn't work (his record, including Scary Movie 3, 4, and RocketMan doesn't exactly inspire).  But there is plenty of other blame to go around.  In addition to the pointless subplots the casting is an absolute mess.  Casting Jonathan Banks (Mike from Breaking Bad) in a comedy was a horrible idea if he is just going to be threatening.  One scene involves him getting a phone call, growling into the phone to his lackeys to find and kill Diana, and then just as angrily turning it off.  Add a laugh track and you have a surreal anti-comedy, but as is its an effectively aggressive performance with nothing funny in a movie that is supposed to generate a chuckle.

Making this snake poisonous would have given Bateman too graceful an exit.

Making this snake poisonous would have given Bateman too graceful an exit.

It's hard to tell to what extent director Seth Gordon had in this failure but he at least got one smile out of me by emphasizing Diana and Sandy's relative levels of fitness over a very short jogging distance.  Aside from that, it would have been nice if he, or anyone else on the set for that matter, would have tried to modulate more of the scenes as though they were in a comedy.  Previous problems with gangster aggression aside there is one moment later on where Diana reveals why she's so obsessed with stealing other people's identities that's supposed to be treated as a sad revelation.  Thing is, the reason given is so pathetic that if anyone realized just how silly her motivation was it could have been spun off into an actual joke.  But no, queue sad music, sad McCarthy, and eventually cut away.

I don't put too much fault on McCarthy, it's clear that she was hired for a role and performs it as it's written, messiness and all.  Less forgiveness should be granted toward Bateman.  He is not a funny man.  Not once have I been inspired to laugh by his performance, not in this film, not in Arrested Development (where, and this is the difference, good writers elevate him), and not at any other observible point in his career.  Once again he seems annoyed with everyone around him, barely rouses up concern for his mostly offscreen family, and even when he's energetic has a look of contempt on his face.

There's so much more.  The jokes that just hung onscreen looking for a reason to exist beyond pure stereotyping ("What are you, a fucking Kenyan?").  The endless scenes of McCarthy overdoing it trying desperately to make anything funny.  A sterile chase scene.  It's a bonanza of bad choices, direction, writing, and performing.

McCarthy deserves better.  All she needs to do is look to her costar and see how easily goodwill can be squandered away.

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Identity Thief - TailIdentity Thief  (2013)

Directed by Seth Gordon.
Screenplay written by Craig Mazin.
Starring Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy.

Posted by Andrew

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