Hobbled from the start by a ludicrous premise, Identity Thief goes steadily downhill thanks to its awful attempts at humor and even worse stabs at morality. A product of the improv-heavy, loudmouth-centric slop that’s come to dominate the comedic landscape, Seth Gordon’s film is time unwisely spent and evidence that its stuck-in-a-rut cast could use a break.
Banking on the appeal of its odd couple leads, Identity Thief goes all in on the unreasonable concept of Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) trekking to Florida to not only apprehend Diana (Melissa McCarthy) for fraudulent use of his good name, but bring her back to Denver so that he can be cleared of all false charges. A model nice guy, squeaky clean in all regards, Sandy is a ridiculous candidate for the mission, though him seeing it through is barely challenged by his wife (Amanda Peet), boss (John Cho), or the detective (Morris Chestnut) investigating Diana’s missed court date for which Sandy is blamed. Pitifully yearning to get Bateman and McCarthy in the same scene, screenwriter Craig Mazin (The Hangover Part II) provides shoddy means for such a union, conceiving an opening act so anemic that all subsequent actions are rendered meaningless.
With the two stars’ convergence in the Sunshine State, flat jokes and embarrassing tries at physical comedy play out like a broken record. Fleeing a pair of pistol-packing gangsters (humorlessly played by Genesis Rodriguez and rapper T.I.) under orders from the imprisoned Paolo (Breaking Bad’s Jonathan Banks, looking like he’d rather be behind bars than shooting his randomly inserted scenes), Sandy convinces Diana to go with him to Colorado. An inane offer and acceptance, the resulting road trip is a joyless take on Planes, Trains and Automobiles, though one that also assumes it can provide the emotional goods. What the film purports as bonding and changes of heart, however, are completely unearned and the gooeyness rammed down viewers’ throats is downright offensive.
Outside of Mazin’s drivel, blame for Identity Thief’s failure is somewhat evenly distributed. Light years from his wonderful Donkey Kong documentary, King of Kong, Gordon displays a complete lack of comedic awareness and an inability to inspire his cast. Limited by such poor leadership, Bateman continues his recent skid of awful studio selections, making May’s return of Arrested Development that much more crucial to his future. Most troublesome, however, is McCarthy, who fully commits to a noisy and crude character type that, for her, works far better in a supporting capacity (i.e. Bridesmaids). Despite the enthusiasm, such an approach is horrifically one-note, and with another version apparently on the way in April’s The Heat, it unfortunately seems to be McCarthy’s go-to style until further notice.
A perfect storm of misery, Identity Thief is a dud through and through. Featuring one decent laugh (by walking joke Jon Favreau at Ayn Rand’s expense) and a multitude of groans, it’s best to pretend that it doesn’t exist.
Rated R for sexual content and language.
Identity Thief is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.