A film review by Craig J. Koban February 19, 2013


2013, R, 111 mins.

Sandy: Jason Bateman / Diana: Melissa McCarthy / Harold: Jon Favreau / Daniel: John Cho / Reilly: Morris Chestnut / Trish: Amanda Peet / Skiptracer: Robert Patrick / Marisol: Genesis Rodriguez

Directed by Seth Gordon / Written by Craig Mazin

IDENTITY THIEF deals with one of the most unpardonable of social crimes and goes completely out of its way to sympathize with the perpetrator because, gosh darn it, she had a really bad childhood and is played by the lovable and larger-than-life Melissa McCarthy.  There is something deeply unsettling about this film’s almost apologetic attitude towards identity theft; it takes a loathsome monster of a human being that destroys countless lives by engaging in these crimes and begs us to warm up to her.  

Yup.  Sure.  Whatever. 

Yeah, yeah…I know…I know…this is a comedy, but is it too much to ask for a comedy to at least occupy a normal plane of earthbound reality?  Rarely are there any moments in the film where characters behave in anything resembling logical human behavior.  On top of all that, IDENTITY THIEF is a tonal disaster.  It wants to be a madcap, screwball farce, a raunchy road trip comedy, a satire of our beleaguered economic times, and a sweet, sentimental, and touching story of a woman dealing with past personal demons.  You can’t be simultaneously aiming for lowest-common-denominator laughs while trying to elicit teary eyed responses from your viewers, which leaves IDENTITY THIEF feeling positively schizophrenic; in the end, I don’t think its makers had the foggiest idea of what kind of film they were making. 

The film begins by introducing us to a middle-class Colorado family man named Sandy Peterson (Jason Bateman) that discovers to his horror that he has become – uh-huh – the victim of identity theft.  His credit rating has been shredded to nothingness, he cards are all maxed out, and he has even been mistakenly arrested in regards to an assault in Florida.  Worse yet, all of his new financial woes worry his business partners at his new job, who all believe Sandy to be a head-turning distraction and liability.  Even when his name is eventually cleared, Sandy becomes infuriated with the lack of assistance by the local authorities to arrest the person directly responsible. 



He decides to take action and discovers that the woman that has stolen and appropriated his I.D. is a Floridian named Diana (McCarthy), a rotund, crazed, and foul mouthed cretin that has been doing everything from binge drinking to buying jet-skis with Sandy’s counterfeited credit cards.  He manages to track her down, but actually convincing her to come all the way cross-country with him back to Colorado proves to be a daunting task.  What then emerges is a poor-man’s PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES unhealthily morphed with MIDNIGHT RUN (the film’s already bloated and hard-to-swallow script also throws in mob-enforcers and a vile bounty hunter into the mix looking for Diana) as Sandy desperately tries to get his prey back home to the authorities, but along the way – wouldn’t ya know it? – he begins to see this criminal in a whole new compassionate light. 


IDENTITY THIEF would have perhaps been more devilishly funny if it just made McCarthy’s lecherous fiend an all out unredeemable loser throughout the proceedings.  Instead, we are forced to gag on the film’s head-smacking transformation of her into a crook with a proverbial heart of gold that got a bad hand dealt to her in life.  You see, she’s a good person that steals money and buys things that give her momentary happiness, but deep down she detests herself and what she has become.  Let’s get the facts straight here, folks: Diana is an unmitigated sicko.  She openly and without hesitation ruins good people, physically assaults others while not verbally berated those she hasn't throat punched, and displays zero remorse for her scandalous crimes.  The film never once dives deep into probing how far-reaching and cruel her actions are; it’s more keen to show her as a paradoxical victim of circumstance.  When the script requires Diana to break down and blubber about her impoverished and troublesome childhood, it delivers.  The intended response from us is to get weepy; I wanted to vomit. 

Jason Bateman is far too shrewd and cunning as a sardonic actor of great deadpan wit to play a character as idiotic in a film just as intellectually bankrupt as this.  It’s borderline incredulous to think that Sandy – after leaving his family, driving from Colorado to Florida, and engaging in the sanity-crushing ordeal of getting the person that stole his identity back home – would ever, evvveeer find any reason to empathize with a grotesque and repugnant cretin like Diana.  I will say this, though: he makes for a great straight person opposite of McCarthy’s shameless camera mugging hysterics and he is really the only thing that keeps this film together and modestly afloat.   

Yet, it’s still an embarrassing sight to see a talent like his wasted in scenes involving multiple car chases, vicious physical altercations, and awkward radio sing-alongs with McCarthy.  One of the most applause-worthy moments in the film occurs when he grabs a guitar from Diana’s apartment and crushes it over her head in an effort to secure her for the long trip home.   The notion that he goes from this hateful state to one where he becomes her bosom buddy in the end – and in one unrelentingly inane subplot, an accomplice to her unique skills of stealing from people - is baffling.  And don’t get me started on the ill-defined, Xanax-popping wife of Sandy’s (played by poor Amanda Peet), who is also egregiously forced to take an abrupt 180 degree turn in the film into a person who comes to recognize Diana less as a monster and more as a endearing lout.   


Maybe I’m getting tired of the relative inconsistency of road trip comedy genre (I despised DUE DATE, but liked the recent THE GUILT TRIP).  I’m even more disappointed that IDENTITY THIEF was directed by Seth Gordon, who previously made the very funny HORRIBLE BOSSES and before that helmed one of my favorite documentaries in a long while in THE KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS.  He seems to lack even a modicum of directorial discipline here in IDENTITY THIEF as he slavishly does what he can with an excruciatingly wrong-headed screenplay that takes too many ill-advised detours from gross-out shenanigans to unapologetic sappiness.  That, and his film runs an endurance-test-worthy 111 minutes, which – considering the final product – runs approximately 110 minutes too long for its own good.  IDENTITY THIEF, oddly enough, robs viewers of their time and patience. 

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