By David Karikomi
I had honest and reasonable expectations heading into Identity Thief. While often typecast in feature films, Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy are still both endearing and entertaining stars, and director Seth Gordon had just helmed the delightfully unsophisticated, slap-stick comedy, Horrible Bosses. The formula to produce a decent comedy is simple: produce a story that makes your actors likeable.
Instead, Identity Thief unfolded as one of the laziest and pathetically unfunny stories in recent memory.
It’s hard not to feel sympathetic for actors like Jason Bateman. He is months away from resuscitating the genius that is Arrested Development, but in the meantime, he has produced and starred not only in Identity Thief, but also in the most recent humiliation of road-trip comedies, Due Date. It must have been surreal and disorientating for Bateman to have worked on the set of a project as hopeless as Identity Thief. Halfway through the film, I hoped someone would have the audacity, or even the decency, to instead screen episodes of Arrested Development. Unfortunately, justice from the comedic gods could only come after being subjected to nearly two hours of chaotic, incoherent mumblings.
Bateman plays Sandy Patterson, the unsung office worker, who is constantly belittled by his boss (Jon Favreau). With several other disgruntled employees, Sandy starts a new company, a chance to make his growing family’s financial dreams come true. A woman in Florida (McCarthy), however, has stolen his identity, and racked up a sizable debt and several run-ins with the law. Even worse, Sandy’s new boss won’t let him keep his new VP position until he meets with the perpetrator and clears his name – so Sandy flies to Florida to recapture his identity, which, of course, signifies more than the reclamation of his given name.
But these clichés are not the reasons for despising Identity Thief. I enjoy what some people call ‘formulaic’ comedies. I don’t mind knowing exactly what’s going to happen from scene to scene; I often look for that sappy, sentimental ending with interludes of happy laughs. It’s comic relief for the stresses of life. Yet Identity Thief takes these expectations as opportunities to insult the common sense – “intelligence” is too lenient – of its audience.
Every scene is perfectly contrived to follow the story’s hapless agenda. Two sets of gunmen constantly chase Sandy and Diana because of the latter’s shady credit history. An enigmatic old guy in prison orders his cronies to kill Diana. Do those characters matter during any point of the movie? No. In fact, they allow the film to falter even more; and, since two of the hitmen (T.I., Genesis Rodriguez) are racial minorities, the film uses awkward, senseless jokes about minorities in the “old-fashioned” South.