I’m sure anything can be made funny in some way. But, I have a hard time fathoming someone making a “howling comedy” about the hilarities of identity theft. Especially, when the film’s featured crook (played gratingly by Melissa McCarthy) is introduced to us as a loud, obnoxious, compulsive liar who is often either drunk or randy. And, she’s our comedy relief, folks.
In the hands of a cunning and careful dark comedic master, Identity Thief could’ve had potential – but, even that’s a stretch. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with this lame-brained comedy directed by Seth Gordon; a documentarian who showed sincerity with his doc The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters and is now directing mainstream dreck.
In the studio’s defence, Gordon did direct the sleeper hit Horrible Bosses – a dark comedy that goes as dark as it can whilst trying not to push away its mainstream moviegoers. Wanting the same results, I can see why producers and studio heads would feel comfortable with Gordon at the wheel.
But, Gordon is out of his element as he works with an offensive back-peddling script penned by Craig Mazin. Not only is the premise dead-in-the-water, but the motivations behind each character are astronomically flimsy. There’s nothing for Gordon to work with here.
Seth Gordon may have directed two narratively driven financial successes beforehand, but those films were almost used as tools to see if Gordon is comfortable with directing films that aren’t documentaries. You can see this clearly with Four Christmases.
To send this semi-new filmmaker to follow-up those two films with a colossal waste that is more contradictory than funny is mean. To make a film as deplorable and unfunny as this is unacceptable.
But, enough career analysis and adjective hurling. After all my fuss, why does this alleged “comedy” stink?
We’ve all seen the trailers and TV spots for Identity Thief and, by now, we’re familiar with the premise. However, it doesn’t overcome the film’s major hiccup regarding treating a serious and frustrating issue like identity fraud as a broad comedy.
Right out of the gate, Identity Thief fails and keeps on failing for almost two-hours. The main problem being that the film’s protagonist is brought to our attention as Sandy Patterson (played by Jason Bateman), a ne’er-do-well husband who loves and cares for his family and has done nothing wrong. In Identity Thief, audiences are supposed to laugh at him as he’s being humiliated, discriminated, and abused…for doing nothing but wanting to get his financial situation in order so that he can go back to work.
Comic relief isn’t funny when it’s conducted by an annoying dolt and aimed at someone who hasn’t done anything. The only loophole is if that “mark” does something that snowballs out of control that leads to the absurdity. There’s none of that here because Bateman’s character is exhausted and halfway sane – until the unbelievable last third.
When Bateman’s Sandy Patterson meets up with McCarthy’s “Sandy Patterson”, audiences then endure one of the most irritating road comedies as we sit with someone who mugs uncontrollably and someone who doesn’t deserve to be miserable.
Sandy and “Sandy” make various stops along the way. All these pitstops involve McCarthy lying in order to get things and insulting Bateman. She takes advantage of peoples’ generosity and sympathy and doesn’t bat an eyelash. Hilarious stuff, right?
Wait until you see “Sandy” seduce a heftier cowboy (played by Eric Stonestreet) and then find out that he’s a widower and that he’s nervous about having sex with another woman. Imagine the joyous uproars of laughter when she jumps on him, has wild sex, and contemplates robbing him.
It’s a recipe for disaster – and the movie has no idea. Who thought it would be a good idea to generate laughs from an irksome, hoarding, annoying, selfish sociopath?
But, you’ve seen nor heard nothing yet. No. The film goes further down the rabbit hole.
Identity Thief has the gall to turn the tables. To represent “Sandy” as hurt and misunderstood. To allow Sandy to feel bad and develop a friendship with her. To show that even though someone has turned your life upside-down, upset your finances and your family, and belittled you for days, they can still teach you a thing or two about confidence.
Hell, the crook can even show you how to get back at that jerk-of-a-boss – by doing the same things that she’s been doing that are not only illegal, but have been angering you and fuelling your trip in order to sustain justice. Because, hey, that rule-breaking nuisance may just be worth fighting for.
Is it possible to set a movie on fire?