Boy, was I looking forward to this movie. The trailer looked hilarious; it stars Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman and was directed by Seth Gordon. I sat down in the theater with some curly fries, expecting a hilarious hybrid of Horrible Bosses and Bridesmaids and, instead, got a nearly 2-hour film that tries so hard to straddle the comedy, drama, action, and heist genres that it ends up failing entirely.
The basic plot is promising enough. Mild-mannered accountant and family man, Sandy Bigelow Patterson (Bateman), finds out that his identity has been stolen by bubbly con artist, Diana (McCarthy), who has been racking up debt and committing crimes in his name. He tracks her down in Florida and the two embark on a road trip to his home state of Colorado to bring her to justice. Along the way, they encounter many, many, many supposedly hilarious mishaps including two vengeful criminals, a bounty hunter, a car chase, more identity theft and a massive snake
In addition to cramming too much into one film, my primary grievance with Identity Thief is that it just tries so hard to balance humor with heart. I appreciate the effort but this only succeeds in giving the movie a bipolar tone, dropping from humor to sadness and back up again so suddenly that it is uncomfortable rather than moving. I imagine the writers sitting around a table going, “We just had Eric Stonestreet strip dancing down to his tighty whities. Now, let’s have him make Diana tear up by calling her ‘a good person’ and follow that up with a hilariously raunchy sex scene. Then Diana should bawl in the car while listening to Sandy’s daughters over the phone. Yeah, that feels … balanced.”
It’s not that funny movies can’t contain emotion or depth. Knocked Up has its moments. She’s Out of My League is quite sweet in the end. Zombieland has Woody Harrelson’s character crying over his murdered son and deals with themes of isolation. Heck, even Anchorman addresses gender equality. It can be done. It just has to be done well. And Identity Thief doesn’t do it well. It’s that simple.
To be fair, Identity Thief does have its strong points. It contains some truly funny material. I even laughed out loud, once. The only positive presence in this film that’s really worth mentioning, though, is Melissa McCarthy. Bateman is fine playing more or less the same character he played in Horrible Bosses but McCarthy steals the show. Her line delivery is priceless and her physical comedy with Bateman comprises most of the film’s humor. Furthermore, she manages to transition between the funny and sad bits believably. She’s astonishingly good at dramatic acting, apparently. Her performance isn’t enough to compensate for the bizarre tonal shifts in the movie, but then again, I don’t think any amount of acting could.
McCarthy’s role in Identity Thief is also indicative of a very recent shift in women’s roles in comedies. Granted, there was Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett but for the vast majority of comedy’s history, female characters have played the Straight Men to their male co-star’s comic. Bridesmaids was certainly groundbreaking (though some have disputed this point) for featuring a nearly all-female cast in a raunchy comedy but movies like Identity Thief and the upcoming The Heat prove that Bridesmaids wasn’t a fluke. It’s a trend. A trend in which women get to participate in physical comedy and general wackiness just as much as the men. So, while I maintain that Identity Thief is a failure as a film, I’m intrigued by its implications for the entertainment industry. That’s the best thing I can say about it.