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Monday, February 18, 2013

Review: Identity Thief

The Only Thing This "Identity Thief" Steals is Nearly Two Hours of Your Life

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: February 8, 2013
Rating: R
Genre: Comedy
Running Time: 112 minutes
Writers: Craig Mazin (screenplay), 
Jerry Eeten (story), Craig Mazin (story)
Director: Seth Gordon
Cast: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, 
Jon Favreau, Amanda Peet, T.I., 
Genesis Rodriguez, Morris Chestnut, 
John Cho, Robert Patrick, 
Eric Stonestreet

"Identity Thief" tries to be a combination of "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" and "Midnight Run" without ever quite capturing the success of either.

This movie is problematic from the very beginning.

If you received a phone call informing you of suspicious charges, would you blindly hand over your social security number? Only a complete imbecile would. Sandy Bigelow Patterson (Jason Bateman) recites those digits without a second thought.

If you were an identity thief, would you call from your own number, which reveals your city and state? The fake Sandy Bigelow Patterson, Diana (Melissa McCarthy), does.

If you were a loving wife with two daughters and a baby on the way, would you allow your naive husband to make a trip to Winter Park, Florida to capture his identity thief and bring her back to the state of Colorado for questioning? Trish Patterson (Amanda Peet, wasted in yet another thankless accessory role) apparently sees no issues with this.

If that wasn't ridiculous enough, Sandy's co-worker (John Cho) and the detective investigating the case (Morris Chestnut) also consider it a solid plan.

Some people have the attitude that it's "just a comedy," so it doesn't need to be logical. To me, the funniest situations are grounded in reality.

At first I wondered what would possess Melissa McCarthy to take a role like this. So confident and hilarious in "Bridesmaids," her character in "Identity Thief" is completely obnoxious and unpleasant – at least at the outset. If that wasn't bad enough, the movie constantly – and offensively – portrays Diana as the object of other people's pity because she's "fat" and "frumpy." Even worse, she pretends to have fibromyalgia to elicit even more of their sympathy. This is supposed to be funny?

Jason Bateman, meanwhile, attempts to channel his best impression of Steve Martin from "Planes, Trains & Automobiles." He never comes close to the brilliance of that performance, of course, but he deserves points for trying. Like Martin's character, Sandy is a humorless sourpuss. Then again, he does have every right to be angry – after all, his identity has been stolen.

Diana is able to pose as Sandy because "that's a girl's name," as various characters unhelpfully point out. Sandy defends himself by explaining that his grandfather was a "big ball fan" and named him after the legendary player Sandy Koufax. That garners a belly laugh from his horrible boss – is there ever any other kind? – Harold Cornish (played by Jon Favreau).

Sandy 1 eventually catches up with Sandy 2, and they run into the usual problems that befall every character in every road trip movie. For one thing, people are looking for them (Genesis Rodriguez, T.I., and "Terminator 2's" Robert Patrick at various points). There's also a car chase sequence. In most movies, regular human beings suddenly become experienced stunt drivers. Not here. The camerawork is fantastic, perfectly capturing the fear and lack of control a normal person would experience in that situation.

The most memorable supporting character is probably Big Chuck (Eric Stonestreet, "Modern Family"), a large, fun-loving "hoss" who likes to have a good time. He is the first to see beyond Diana's exterior and recognize her beauty. (Until a condescending "makeover" scene much later in the film, she strongly resembles the redheaded woman from the original "Total Recall" who kept saying "two weeks" over and over.)

"Identity Thief" becomes far more enjoyable in the second half as Sandy and Diana get to know each other and their attitudes begin to soften. We finally see glimmers of what makes Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy such warm, likeable, appealing comedic actors. Still, by then, it's too little, too late to salvage the movie. This is more than just a case of mistaken identity; it was a mistake, period, for Bateman and McCarthy to attach themselves to this project.

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