“Identity Thief”: Stealing Your Time and Money

By February 8, 2013
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Rating: 0/5
By James Rocchi

Filing yet another negative review of “Identity Thief,” the Seth Gordon-directed Jason Bateman/Melissa McCarthy roadtrip comedy feels beyond redundant, at first — like you’re one of the cronies standing around laughing at poor Murphy and idly putting bullets into his limbs before Clarence Boddicker delivers the coup de grace. But it isn’t merely that “Identity Thief” is bad — unfunny, rambling, inconsistent within even itself — it’s that it’s bad in a very specific way, and a way that tells you how much contempt Big Studio Hollywood has for you and your tastes, and how little they think it takes to make you laugh.

if you’ve seen the trailer, you know the plot: Denver corporate drone Jason Bateman has his social security number and credit hijacked by Melissa McCarthy’s Florida con woman; told that the police can’t do anything unless McCarthy were standing in front of them, Bateman goes after her himself to save his life and his new job. Picking at plot holes in “identity thief” is like counting freckles on a leper; the whole thing is decayed into abject failure. It’s not just, as too many have pointed out, that presumably Bateman’s credit card company could help him with this; it’s not just that in the land of the free and the AR-15, going after a criminal, even one who ‘looks like a hobbit,” can get you fricking shot; when we’re told that the police can’t arrest McCarthy for credit fraud and then later Bateman and McCarthy are arrested for credit fraud by the police mere hours after committing it, you get an understanding of just how stupid “Identity Thief” thinks you are.

That’s not the only inconsistency in the film — hired killers played by T.I. and Genesis Rodriguez are on McCarthy’s trail, presumably to shoot at the lazy script to make it more like an Old West cowboy forcing a fat man to “Dance!” by pinging bullets at his feet, and they can track Bateman and  McCarthy by GPS but then don’t, and then they can again and then they don’t again. The question is not “Who wrote this?” — that blame goes to Craig Mazin and Jerry Eeten — but rather “Who approved it?” As for McCarthy and Bateman — they’re blameless, like grocery delivery clerks trapped in the back of a wood-panel station wagon with a drunk driver at the wheel.

“Identity Thief,” like “Silver Linings Playbook” goes out of its way to give you a jumble of things it thinks an audience will respond to, regardless of logic or character or sense. Why does Robert DeNiro, who has no respect for his son Bradley Cooper, wager his fortune on his son winning a dance competition he can’t see the point of? Why does “Identity Thief” saddle McCarthy’s character with a boo-hoo backstory and then give her a shameless, simplistic makeover as shorthand to suggest she’s changed her ways specifically because she no longer has to look like a caricature of a drunk Jimmy Buffet fan? McCarthy is funnier unrepentant — in a house full of more cans of hairspray and blenders than one human could  ever use, surrounded by a monument to her idiot greed. That character is funny; the later, made-over McCarthy is dull as dishwater, repentant only because that’s what the filmmakers think you want.

Gordon’s previous film, “Horrible Bosses,” had at least an element of class consciousness as Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day struck back at their tormentors; what “Identity Thief” offers is crass consciousness, with McCarthy and Eric Stonestreet having a booze-fueled lovemaking session intended to disgust Bateman, and, by proxy, us. Oh, and automotive mayhem for no purpose, designed solelyuto cost money and waste time, presumably because the great comedies are not about society or character or situation but, you know, stunt driving and watching vehicles get smashed. (“Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” has a lot to answer for, although it’s hard to imagine anyone involved in this wreck having a sense of film history that extends past the end of the second George W. Bush administration; they were probably thinking of “Due Date.”)

“Identity Thief” is too ubiquitously advertised to not make a little money this weekend — although, if like books and music or almost any other cultural commodity, you could get a full refund through “returning” a movie for dissatisfaction, it would be far less. (And wouldn’t making that change improve the movie industry immeasurably?) “Identity Thief” thinks it’s about stealing money and dignity from hardworking suckers for people who don’t care about them to waste on trifling trash. Really, though? That’s what it does.

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James Rocchi lives in Los Angeles. Born in Canada, he's a regular contributor, interviewer and reviewer for MSN Movies, Indiewire's The Playlist, GeekNation, ScreenCrush.com and the Toronto Star. He's also written for ifc.com, Netflix, Mother Jones magazine and The Guardian UK. A member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, you can find him on twitter @jamesrocchi.