Directed by: Seth Gordon
Premise: A mild-mannered businessman (Jason Bateman) discovers that his identity has been stolen, putting his job, finances, and family at risk. When he confronts the thief (Melissa McCarthy), the two find themselves on the run from violent criminals who are also after her.
What Works: Actors Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy are proven talents and they do what they can with the material they are given.
What Doesn’t: Identity Thief was directed by Seth Gordon, who had previously made some interesting documentaries like The King of Kong and Freakonomics but his attempts at feature filmmaking consist of a pair of awful comedies: 2008’s Four Christmases and 2011’s Horrible Bosses. Gordon strikes out with Identity Thief, a movie that is as obnoxious as it is unfunny. Like many bad films, the problems with Identity Thief are rooted in its screenplay. This script is credited to Jerry Eeten and Craig Mazin; the latter’s short list of writing credits mostly include bad comedy sequels like The Hangover Part II and Scary Movie 4. Identity Thief is consistent with those films as it is a lazy and unfocused movie. The picture gets off to a bad start with an unbelievable premise. The idea that Jason Bateman’s character would drive across the country to essentially kidnap Melissa McCarthy’s character and transport her back is stupid. Silly concepts can be made credible by a good writer but the filmmakers of Identity Thief do not appear to have thought there premise through any further than that. This is a one-joke movie: Melissa McCarthy is a tacky and obnoxious character, not far removed from Adam Sandler’s performance in Jack and Jill, and the audience is expected to laugh at how insufferable she is. All the humor of Identity Thief consists of Melissa McCarthy mugging for the camera. McCarthy is a talented actress and she is clearly working hard here, likely improvising many of her scenes. When actors improvise on set, their work typically has a gradual incline before peaking, followed by a swift drop off in quality. It is the job of the director and the editor to reign in the performances, cutting out the excess so that the finished scene consists of the best material. The filmmakers of Identity Thief don’t know when to stop and the movie gets obnoxious really quick, like listening to a friend tell the same joke for the millionth time. But it seems as though the filmmakers are bound to use McCarthy’s white-trash shtick to fill out their movie because there just isn’t anything else to it. Once Bateman and McCarthy’s characters begin their road trip, nothing happens in the story. The duration of the film is a series of disconnected scenarios that could be rearranged in any order and make about as much sense. What is worse is that the moviemakers try for a character arc but get it all wrong. McCarthy’s character is given a backstory and the filmmakers attempt to build sympathy for her but given how much of Identity Thief is built on jokes at her expense it comes across as disingenuous. As part of that arc the moviemakers also try to engineer a redemption with Bateman’s character coming to the conclusion that the person who upended his life to satisfy her own greed is somehow not that bad after all. This final reversal is insincere and worsens the movie by pushing it from bad comedy into lousy melodrama.
Bottom Line: Identity Thief is an awful film. It fails as a comedy but the movie is also obnoxious and disingenuous.
Episode: #427 (February 17, 2013)