Identity Thief is your prototypical buddy road comedy. It follows in the same formula as Midnight Run, Due Date, and even Planes, Trains and Automobiles. If you saw any of those films, you’ll feel an overwhelming sense of nostalgia when watching this one.
Colorado businessman Sandy Bigelow Patterson (Jason Bateman) discovers that his identity has been stolen at the worst possible time–he is the father of two kids with another on the way and is just about to start a new job. What’s worse, this identity theft also comes with cops, arrest warrants and loads of public humiliation. He needs to clear things up fast. Luckily, he knows exactly where the thief will be at a certain time–at a beauty salon in Florida. If he brings her back to Colorado and has her admit she stole his identity, he will be able to save his job and get the police off his back.
Off to Florida he goes and there he finds Diana (Melissa McCarthy) the woman that stole his identity. After a brief struggle, he convinces her to come back to Colorado with him–by car (The TSA wouldn’t take kindly with two people with the same SSN and birthday trying to board the same flight). On the road trip, the two move from a mutual hatred to a begrudging respect for each other, as they must deal with destroyed automobiles, a skip tracer (Robert Patrick) with a vicious violent streak who wants Diana to answer for her crimes, and a pair of assassins (rapper T.I. and Genesis Rodriguez) who want to make sure Diana never gets to implicate their boss (Jonathan Banks).
Even though it works in the frame work of other more successful films, there are a whole lot of problems with Identity Thief, starting with the premise. I have not had my identity completely stolen, but I had unauthorized purchases appear on my bank statement. The bank put a hold on my account at the first sign of suspicious activity, called me, and, when it found out it wasn’t me buying 400 memberships to an online gaming program, they reversed the charges and gave me a new card. And I didn’t have half the evidence Sandy has in this film. And, really, a cop wouldn’t look at an available mugshot when trying to go out and arrest the person in the mugshot?
Another problem lies with Melissa McCarthy. Typically, when you single out an actor, it’s because they did a bad job acting. Weird as it sounds, my problem with McCarthy is that she did too good of a job. If I can come up with a cockamamie analogy, it’s like she was someone who brought filet mignon to a Super Bowl party. It is too much effort for the situation, and it makes all the people who brought the perfectly appropriate nachos and queso dip or buffalo wings look bad.
Granted, she has to make a thief with a penchant for punching men in the throat appealing to audiences. And she does. She builds a character who’s motivations are believable and who’s conflicts appear genuine. But the film tries to present itself as a farce, and what a farce needs is caricatures, not characters. McCarthy’s realistic portrayal of Diana not only points out when the illusion of realism in the character is broken, but also makes all the illogical plot points stand out even more. Bateman plays a variation on the cranky, yet kind, character he’s known for, which works, but when paired in scenes with McCarthy, seems lost at sea.
I also have an issue with the film’s approach to violence, most of which is aimed at McCarthy’s character. It never quite becomes slapstick–it is far too dark and realistic. Let’s do a quick rundown. Diana is hit in the back with a waffle iron, has a guitar broken over her face, is in a car that does cartwheels after being run off the road, and is hit by a speeding car. All done for laughs and she bounces back up afterwards, but it still is jarring to see it as realistically as it is portrayed on the screen, with blood and heads bouncing off of windshields and the like.
I could go on. There are some laughs, but not enough to overcome the film’s numerous flaws. I can’t really recommend this one.