Is Identity Thief a rollicking comedic ride, or is this road trip comedy in need of a rest stop?
The new Jason Bateman/Melissa McCarthy comedy Identity Thief is something close to a sandwich that one loses a taste for soon after ordering it. Stacked high with well-intentioned comedic zaniness and surrounded by freshly-baked acting goodness, the film follows the straight-laced Colorado father Sandy (Jason Bateman, Arrested Development) as he loses - then gains back - his identity from Florida grifter Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids). McCarthy plays Diana, an overweight (big surprise) compulsive liar who's made a living by ruining the credit of others. She steals identities, then spends the victim into prison, all because her family abandoned her at an early age. Society dislikes fat people, and every rejection she endures fuels yet another effort to discredit the good names of hard-working, normal-looking people. As circumstance forces our duo to buddy up for a Mea Culpa drive back to Colorado, they must deal with a grizzly bounty hunter (Robert Patrick, Gangster Squad) and two hitmen hired to bring Diana back in a body bag.
Early on, the script by Writer Craig Mazin (Hangover II) looks compelling, as we witness evidence of a class war being waged between Sandy and his one-percent boss Harold Cornish (Jon Favreau, Swingers). But Hollywood consistently demonstrates its hatred for all things unique, and soon Identity Thief becomes more of a story about restoring order and taming McCarthy's wild behavior while wrapped around a standard road trip comedy. The biggest problem here is the increasingly uncomfortable attitude the film takes towards McCarthy's weight; it's clear that Hollywood is molding her into nothing less than a female John Candy for us to mock. How many fat-people movies will we have to endure before she too burns out as Candy did? Bateman suffers a different but no less unpopular pigeon-hole attachment, as he plays yet another straight man to an over-the-top comedian. He's consistently good in these roles, but I'd love to see him stretch his wings ala Pepper Brooks in Deodgeball (yes, that was him). Director Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses) allows both leads to ad-lib often, but the result turns our Act I genuine laughter into nervous reactions by Act II. We all know the bad girl will be tamed but not before each will teach the each other valuable lessons before the credits roll, and Gordon is content to ride this story anywhere it wants to go, including into BoringsVille.
Identify Thief is well-intentioned but ultimately fails as typical brainless Hollywood comedic fare. McCarthy and Bateman are their pigeon-holed comedic selves, relegated to operating in tightly-contained boxes as their characters go through the typical motions of loss and restoration. With a script whose path becomes apparent far too early, Identity Thief's fat jokes and ad-libbing soon become painful distractions, leading to an ending that we've seen far too many times. By then, we've been been throat-punched and cleaned out of any credit we've accumulated with these characters. Wait for this one as a rental: Identity Thief deserves no place in your theater-going plans.
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