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Bateman, McCarthy Let Down by Script in Identity Thief

  • Christian Hamaker Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2013 2 Feb
  • COMMENTS
Bateman, McCarthy Let Down by Script in <i>Identity Thief</i>

DVD Release Date: June 4, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: February 8, 2013
Rating: R for sexual content and language
Genre: Comedy
Run Time: 111 min. 
Director: Seth Gordon
Cast: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Robert Patrick, Amanda Peet, Morris Chestnut, Genesis Rodriguez, Jon Cho, Eric Stonestreet

Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) is an accountant pulling down $50,000 a year to support his wife (Amanda PeetGulliver's Travels) and growing family. When a disenchanted co-worker (John ChoStar Trek) lures him to a start-up by offering him an annual salary of $250,000, Sandy jumps, delighted at what the extra income will mean for his family’s financial security.

Meanwhile, Diana (Melissa McCarthy) has her own ideas about Sandy’s finances. Running a scam, she steals his identity and starts spending wildly. Word gets back to Sandy that he’s been victimized, but with Diana in Florida and Sandy in Colorado, the police officer in charge of the investigation in Colorado says it’ll be months before the perpetrator can be brought to justice.

That won’t do for Sandy, whose reputation has been besmirched to the point where he’s in danger of losing his higher-paying new job. His solution? Against the advice of everyone, Sandy heads to Florida determined to bring Diana back to Colorado, where she can be promptly arrested, thereby restoring Sandy’s standing with his employer.

Bateman has put together a career of straight-man comedy roles that have made him one of the most reliable comic actors in the business. He may be best known as Michael Bluth, the calm center of the eccentric family that populates Ron Howard’s TV show Arrested Development, which is now widely considered a modern classic, thanks to the show’s second life on home video.

But if TV is what helped launch Bateman (as a child, he was also one of the stars of the sitcom Silver Spoons), cinema has been a mainstay for him as an adult. He turned in strong supporting performances in Juno and State of Play, but his efforts to establish himself as a leading man in such films as Extract and The Switch never quite clicked with audiences. Could it be that Bateman’s on-screen persona is better suited for small-dose comic relief of supporting characters rather than the full load required of a main character? Identity Thief does no favors for Bateman or his prospects as a leading man.

As for co-star McCarthy, whose breakout performance came in Bridesmaids, Identity Thief uses her to aim for lowbrow laughs but can’t even manage that. After chugging along with minimal humor, the film completely runs out of laughing gas before turning into a dreadfully misguided attempt at Diana's personal reformation and redemption. While such transformation is laudable in most stories, here it feels false.

That’s a shame, because Bateman and McCarthy give their all to the material. It’s the script by Allan Loeb—who wrote the beautiful Things We Lost in the Fire before turning to routine comedies like The Dilemma and Here Comes the Boom—that lets the performers down by not committing fully to the premise it lays out. The film is so insistent on adding an unearned moral dimension to its story that it becomes insulting.

The antics with Diana are predictable, but McCarthy makes them amusing to a point. It doesn’t take long, however, before jokes involving Diana’s weight, or her foul mouth, grow tiresome. As if sensing the limits of that material, Loeb’s story introduces two gangsters (T.I. and Genesis Rodriguez) also chasing Diana, as well as a bounty hunter (Robert Patrick) going after the same target. Until the hitmen and bounty hunter show up, Diana spends her time with Sandy trying to figure out how to break free of him and avoid the legal consequences of her behavior. After the other characters show up, Diana and Sandy are forced to work together to avoid the stop-at-nothing trio.

Yet the film can’t reconcile its serious gangster side-story elements with its buddy-comedy and road-movie elements. So the story turns desperate, resorting to a hotel sex fling between Diana and a cowboy (Eric Stonestreet) designed to make us laugh at the sexual escapades of two overweight individuals.

Identity Thief gets even worse from there, as Diana meets Sandy’s family and turns over a new leaf. While such a turnabout in real life would be admirable, in Identity Thief it comes across as pandering—an effort to elevate the film above the dreary, seen-it-before comedy that precedes it. The effort fails, badly. By the time Sandy’s kids visit Diana in a prison yard for a heartwarming get-together, you’ll feel like the audience, not Sandy, is the real victim—robbed of time, money and the hope that Identity Thief would be up to the talents of Bateman and McCarthy.

It’s only February, but so far Identity Thief is the year’s biggest disappointment. No doubt there will be more of those to come this year, but for now, this letdown stings. Its stars deserve better, and so does the audience.

CAUTIONS

  • Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; numerous uses of the “f”-word; numerous curse words; a middle finger extended; crude anatomical references; a crude soundtrack song; “tranny”
  • Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Tequila shots; drinking out of the bottle; Sandy is mistaken for a drug dealer; mixing of drugs and alcohol; wine drinking
  • Sex/Nudity: Husband and wife kiss and head to the bedroom; a sexual tryst in a hotel room; a bare male backside
  • Violence/Crime: A woman is arrested for assault and public intoxication; vomiting; a knee to the crotch; a guitar is slammed into a head; a hit put on Diana; threatened arson; reminiscence of drunk driving and “sleep driving”; a woman and man are shot; a man is shot in the back; a woman is hit by a car; a person is tasered; Diana punches people in the throat

Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at crosswalkchristian@hotmail.com.

Publication date: February 8, 2013