Sunday, February 10, 2013

"Identity Thief"

 2 / 5 

With its formulaic mix of broad slapstick and sappy sincerity, Identity Thief is a foul-mouthed, sex-obsessed version of a Disney movie from the 1970s, replicated later by Disney's own Touchstone in the 1980s.  It's got a high-concept set-up (middle-management executive finds out his identity has been stolen by a crass, plus-sized thief), an unexpected road trip, some bad guys with guns, a couple of zany car chases, and a heart-tugging finale.

Because Identity Thief is from Universal, it can go for R-rated raunch, but overall it works about as well as a movie like Snowball Express or Big Business, delivering fewer laughs and more sap than expected, but still manages to be superficially entertaining, mostly due to the hard work of its two stars, Jason Bateman as the executive, Sandy (that's a girl's name, ha ha -- the movie's favorite running joke), and Melissa McCarthy as the thief.

McCarthy, of course, was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Bridesmaids, the movie that Identity Thief's marketers most desperately wish this one was.  Once again, she proves she's one of the most fearless comedians working in film today, willing to do anything to get a laugh.  As Diana, the cyber-criminal who goes on spending sprees with other people's money, she tries hard to create a fully realized character, but the script does her no favors.

Mostly, Diana is a caricature, a broadly defined broad whose deep-down loneliness has driven her to her many misdeeds.  By playing up the warmth and playing down the realism, the filmmakers missed a chance to take us into some edgy, dark, bizarre territory the way Martin Scorsese did with some similarly distasteful characters in The King of Comedy three decades ago.  Identity Thief doesn't have that kind of nerve, opting instead for a middle-of-the-road approach that plays down her sociopathic tendencies in favor of her brazen goofiness.

McCarthy still manages to be wildly inappropriate and almost singularly equipped to repeat dialogue that would be impossible for any other actor to say, much less make funny.

Bateman is her match as a comedic actor, combining exasperation and desperation and grounding them in a reality that helps guide the film through its less effective moments.  There are, alas, plenty of those here -- for every genuine belly laugh, and there are several, there are two or three misconceived efforts to be sentimental and find a way to make these two characters somehow like each other despite Diana's despicable misdeeds.

There are also some needless, one-dimensional villains who are also hot on Diana's trail, a way-too-long detour into broad sex comedy (too obviously trying to emulate Bridesmaids), and a completely superfluous sequence that has Diana and Sandy battling a snake in the woods.  At that point, Identity Thief has quite literally gone off the track, and it never completely finds its way back.

Identity Thief never hits the comic heights it aspires to and never creates compelling chemistry between its weirdly matched characters. It's a mild diversion, but from actors like McCarthy and Bateman, it's fair to expect a lot more. 

Viewed Feb. 9, 2013 -- ArcLight Hollywood


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