2 / 5 stars
As a fan of Jason Bateman, I never thought I’d get sick of his smartly smug, straight-laced line delivery. He’ll drop his chin and blurt out a retort meant to keep his character’s pride intact, and it’s great fun to watch. But Identify Thief and its director Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses) are so overly reliant on the Art of Bateman that I’d had enough. And the idea of ‘too much’ in the film doesn’t just rest with Bateman; Gordon also assigns every shrieking insult and guffaw to the now-signature improv shenanigans of Melissa McCarthy, she the other of the two crutches helping this weak road-trip comedy limp on down the highway. (Click on the movie poster for a closer look.)
This isn’t an unfamiliar obstacle in two-character road movies: If not for the crackling unpredictability that Zach Galifianakis and Robert Downey, Jr. naturally possess, Due Date would’ve had me leaping from a moving vehicle. (Todd Phillips also knew well enough to include Jamie Foxx.) Here, the cinematic monotone comes from an endless journey—and a mostly ridiculous set of roadblocks—in which mild-mannered accountant Sandy (Bateman) acts as his own bounty hunter to bring sociopath Diana (McCarthy) from Florida to Colorado after she successfully snags his identity. A big problem, both for them and us, is that there’s a real bounty hunter involved (Robert Patrick). And, in a deep ditch of zero originality, there are even a couple drug dealers on the trail. Forget a lesser Due Date, this is like Midnight Dumb.
Maybe screenwriter Craig Mazin kept referring to the repetitive nature of his older scripts, copying them form and format, while writing Identity Thief. With credits for The Hangover Part II and III, and a couple titles in the Scary Movie catalog, it seems Mazin is used to writing comedy in small bites, moving a story from point A to point B by hitchhiking on a laugh. Or, at least, an attempt at one. Story rhythm and character development must feel like hindrances to the process.
If you think adding drug dealers and ruthless bosses is a desperate, simpleton stretch, you have yet to see the movie devolve into the tale of the misunderstood criminal with a heart of gold. It’s cheap, even for a low-rent comedy, despite McCarthy’s valiant attempts to bring some soul to Diana—even if Gordon has her turning real emotions on and off like some sort of bubbly schizophrenic.
And it’s obvious from the get-go, to anyone who has enjoyed a Bateman or McCarthy performance in the past, that both actors will deliver to the best of their abilities here because they’re playing to type. Bateman portrays Sandy as naïve and plain, just humble enough to get mentally beaten down at his job, and get duped by some credit-card-wielding nutjob. McCarthy lets loose her high-energy antics, as expected (which feel oddly satisfying when she’s physically beating on other guys).
Alas, it’s not easy to root for our heroes the umpteenth time Diana karate chops some dude in the throat, or Sandy throws his arms and eyebrows to the air in incredulous disgust. As the story in Identity Thief gets deeper into fantasy land, it gets more frustrating to watch, especially when the comedic tone hasn’t been tweaked and the dialogue is paint by numbers. It’d be interesting to know if Bateman and McCarthy eventually felt like they were just going through the motions. After a while, it certainly feels like that’s what we’re watching.