Following up her breakout performance in 2011’s Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy stars alongside Jason Bateman in Identity Thief, the newest comedy from Horrible Bosses director Seth Gordon. Gordon has directed some really good stuff in the past – The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, episodes of “Parks and Recreation,” “The Office,” and “Community,” even Horrible Bosses was solid – but the trio of McCarthy, Bateman, and Gordon is no match for the profound crappiness of writer Craig Mazin’s abysmal script. Identity Thief isn’t as terrible as a post-2005 Adam Sandler movie, but it’s definitely one of the worst movies I’ve seen so far this year.
The premise is simple: Diana (McCarthy) is a sociopath who lives in “the worst place in America” – Winter Park, Florida, which actually isn’t that bad in real life [I lived there for a year] – where she steals identities from any schmuck dumb enough to give up their Social Security Number over the phone. Her latest mark is a Denver accountant named Sandy Patterson (Bateman), a family man who takes abuse from his boss (Jon Favreau) and quits with his co-workers (led by John Cho) to start a new accounting firm. But due to Diana’s antics – she’s created a fake ID with Sandy’s name on it, charged thousands of dollars to his credit cards, and has a warrant out for her (his) arrest – Sandy is busted and faced with a situation that is only possible because this movie is so stupid: due to some idiotic laws, it’s up to him to head across the country, capture the imposter, and return her to Denver in order to keep his job and provide for his pregnant wife (Amanda Peet).
As you may have guessed, hijinks ensue. Sandy and Diana continually beat the crap out of each other, two assassins (Genesis Rodriguez and rapper T.I.) who take orders from a jailed mob boss (Jonathan Banks) come after the hapless duo, a Southern-fried bounty hunter (Robert Patrick) slides into the mix, and through car chases, horrifying hotel trysts, failed escape attempts, snake attacks, and more, we’re supposed to believe that Sandy and Diana actually start to become friends. One thing that never really pops up? Humor.
McCarthy loses much of her charm and essentially turns into a foul-mouthed female Kevin James, performing pratfalls, forcing jokes, and spewing profanities at every opportunity. It’s a shame she’s stuck with such godawful material here, since she’s proven in films like John August’s underrated The Nines that she’s actually a solid actress who can handle comedy and drama alike. In Identity Thief, her character ruins peoples’ lives with absolutely no remorse, and I spent the entire movie hoping she’d go to jail. Despite Mazin’s best efforts to pepper the film with scenes that are supposed to make us empathize with this woman, and despite McCarthy’s sincere attempts to make those moments work, they all fell flat; no amount of road trip bonding shenanigans can make up for a lifetime of screwing people over.
Bateman clearly isn’t afraid of being pigeonholed as the flummoxed everyman, since his work here is practically the same as every other comedy he’s been in since playing nice guy Michael Bluth on “Arrested Development.” I’d love to see him take an acting risk and step outside of his comfort zone, but he excels at playing this kind of character, so I can’t fault him for finding something he’s good at and milking it. Those who have enjoyed his previous work will likely find him watchable here, since his performance is the only aspect of this movie that didn’t have me wishing someone stole my identity and had to watch this nonsense in my place.
Gordon is a fine director, but writer Craig Mazin (The Hangover Part II, Scary Movie 4, Superhero Movie) should never work as a screenwriter again. He has a fundamental misunderstanding of how his own characters should react to scenarios, and when the audience spends most of a comedy’s run time questioning every decision every character makes, the film is not accomplishing its goal. Weak attempts at raising questions of body image, self esteem, and social class structure are the only laughable elements in this “comedy,” and I’m hoping Bateman and McCarthy are smart enough to choose better material than this in the future. Sandy Patterson’s identity isn’t the only thing stolen in this film: Mazin’s atrocious writing robbed Identity Thief of any memorable moments, worthwhile laughs, or quality of any kind. Until next time…