Just as Due Date was a comedy for an audience unfamiliar with Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Identity Thief is a comedy for those who have never seen Midnight Run. It starts out promising with a pair of affable leads, but as the minutes tick by and the jokes falls flat, the movie quickly drops from “bad” to a level on the scale where the viewer starts to think it is the root cause for all their problems in life. Now that’s a debilitatingly level of badness.
Knowing what’s funny and what’s not varies from viewer to viewer. We each have our own definition of humor and what makes us laugh. But in Identity Thief the filmmakers make the miscalculation of needing to include dramatics as a way to make us care about a con artist. By incorporating this bit of seriousness into the proceedings it seems to want to level the playing field in the enormity of sex jokes and pratfall humor that have occurred up until this reveal. At least in the case of John Hughes’ Planes, Trains and Automobiles he served up the dramatics smooth and the comedy is all the better because of it. Here, we take in this forced sentimentality as if someone were dropping a love bomb on a community that sees its citizens embrace each other with wide hugs while chipping their teeth on candy hearts. If I wanted that kind of feeling, I would watch the final moments of a Tyler Perry movie, or any TGIF comedy from the 1990s when the morale of the episode plays out.
One of the ways you can determine if an upcoming release is a critical bomb is when advertisements tout it as being from the producer of Ted and director of Horrible Bosses (as is the case with Identity Thief) and failing to mention either person by name. Surprisingly, the ads fail to mention that Craig Mazin, who penned The Hangover Part II, also wrote this comedy. Why he made the decision to include a sentimental interlude so that the audience can learn the real reason why a woman became a con artist is still a mystery to me. At least we understand why John Candy is lonely as a traveling shower curtain ring salesman.
Rather than give you a blow by blow of the comedy exploits, just know that they are derived from the same type of humor that made Bridesmaids a huge hit. So with cartoon-like violence, profanity-laced jokes and the requisite “puke scene,” the hit-to-miss ratio is less than thirty percent. Throw in the dramatic scene after having witnessed the two protagonists do awful things to one another and you see why Identity Thief fails as a movie; it’s because it is suffering from an identity crisis. Call it the “wanting to have its cake and eat it to” scenario.
In the comedy, Jason Bateman is Sandy Patterson, a family man with the effeminate-sounding name (but it’s really asexual) who plays by the rules. Upon learning that his identity has been stolen by Diana (Melissa McCarthy), he leaves his Colorado home and heads to Florida, where she is located. His mission: to track down the woman that destroyed his credit rating and potentially cost him his job. From the onset the audience is firmly behind Sandy. Nobody likes to get screwed over and we understand his situation. And Diana, well, she’s like a live-action cartoon that can withstand getting rammed by a speeding car and getting hit with acoustic guitars with no lingering effects. She’s clearly a bad person but because she’s Melissa McCarthy she can get away with it, apparently.
Any comic potential Bateman and McCarthy have in their scenes is thwarted with the contrivances that follow (including two low-level mob enforces and a skip tracer) and sees them take a long road trip back to the Mile High City. By turning the situation to a mismatched buddy film we get the sob story about Diana’s youth for sympathy purposes. I’m not sure if the story is supposed to be legit or not, because Diana is a compulsive liar who is also referred to as Julia (another alias I’m assuming).
Director Seth Gordon, the unnamed director responsible for Horrible Bosses and Identity Thief, fails at making a worthwhile comedy. While I may have given Bosses too much praise at the time of its release, it at least had enough clever moments and interesting casting to make the comedy to work. With Identity Thief we get to see Jon Favreau as the type of boss that most 99-percenters would want to punch in the face. Morris Chestnut proves as a Denver cop that we’re better off solving our own problems without police intervening, and John Cho is just there hoping people won’t ask him about Kumar.
The comedy’s cavalier attitude toward identity thievery also leaves a bad taste. It even has the embedded, unintentional morale that we should turn the other cheek when it comes to identity thieves. It’s okay to overlook their crimes because their deprived upbringing is a good enough excuse for their behavior. The fact that most will probably be obtuse to this sermonizing should tell you something about the intended audience.
Identity Thief is a poorly designed comedy with unwarranted artificial sweetener.
Director: Seth Gordon
Writer: Craig Mazin
Notable Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Bateman, Amanda Peet, Jon Favreau, Robert Patrick, John Cho, Morris Chestnut