Identity Thief Review
The best you’re going to get out of me is a recommendation to rent it ...
Despite the committed efforts of veteran comedian Jason Bateman and the up-and-coming Melissa McCarthy, director Seth Gordon’s third studio feature neither walks the daring black comedy path that his last film - Horrible Bosses - took, nor does it satisfy as an outright comedy. In fact, whether it’s in terms of effective gross-out comedy, poignantly satirical comedy, or just witty straight comedy, Identity Thief manages to miss the mark on all counts.
It’s a great shame really, as I do like the two leads, and there was potential here for satisfying, smart - or silly - laughs, but the script simply wasn’t up to scratch. And, after a little research, it’s easy to realise why: screenwriter Craig Mazin also happens to be the man behind such devastatingly *stunning* sequels as Scary Movie 3 and 4, and The Hangover Part II and Part III. Missing the mark seems to be a full-time job for this guy and the movie ends up suffering as a result. Indeed it actually reminded me of the Jennifer Aniston / Gerard Butler ‘comedy’ The Bounty Hunter – a comparison which couldn’t possibly be interpreted as a compliment, and which tells you exactly what to expect from this mess.
The story follows accounts processor Sandy Patterson, a happily-married man with two children – and a third on the way – who is good, but undervalued, at his job and who therefore decides to strike out in a new business partnership for a fledgling organisation along with a group of other disgruntled employees who all came from the same company as him. Just as things are looking up, he finds himself the victim of identity theft, with the police now conducting an investigation into his being a potential drug dealer. Since the fraud covers several states – and therefore several jurisdictions – the police predict that it will take a number of years (if ever) for them to bring the culprit to justice. Sandy can’t wait that long. He has a week to find the person and personally deliver them to the police, otherwise he’ll lose his job on account of crimes that he didn’t even commit.
After her two short scenes in This Is 40 nearly stole the whole show (and certainly made for one of the best end credits gag reels ever), Melissa McCarthy should have been in her element here as the initially nameless identity thief. Instead she just doesn't seem to be having much fun at all. Her character isn't exactly supposed to be likeable but it takes almost an eternity to see anything even vaguely interesting about her and, in the meantime, she really is quite a nasty piece of work. Indeed her exaggerated throat-punching antics (especially the unconscious one!) remain the only remotely amusing moments in the entire piece.
Jason Bateman often appears to be more amusing in his serious films than he is in some of his comedies - certainly I liked his character more in the terrorism thriller The Kingdom - but, even though things are quite somber in this film, because you're expecting more outright comedy, he just comes across as a little off-form. There are some nice touches, but even the moments where he's allowed to let loose - to emulate McCarthy's sociopath - aren't fully realised. Indeed if you watch the deleted scenes you can see how hard they tried to make this work (c.f. the motel sequence), but there just wasn't enough room in the script, or enough direction from Seth Gordon, to pull it off.
Often with modern comedies there's a lot of improv, with the cast exploring variations of the key moments to get the funniest combo. Yet here - again, as you'll be able to tell from the extra material - it's clear that there was little, if any, of this going on. Indeed you can probably tell just from the trailer what to expect from the film, since even that wasn't particularly funny - and trailers normally have the best bits; this being no exception!
Supporting cast members Robert 'T-1000' Patrick, Jon Favreau, Amanda Peet, Morris Chestnut, Genesis Rodriguez, John Cho and T.I. don't really help either, mostly adding more to the drama than to the comedy, the exception being Swingers' Favreau, who is still funnier in any of the Iron Man films than he is here. And T.I. should stick to what he's good at. Whatever that is (it was, once, rapping).
Even the ‘Extended Version’ is yet another disappointing sham (at least they can’t call it an ‘unrated’ cut like in the States, which is even more misleading considering there’s nothing ‘unrated’ about it whatsoever). Over 10 minutes of extra footage and not a single noteworthy joke or clever sequence. There’s more from Favreau’s arrogant boss at the start – and here we actually get to see Sandy quit – and then there’s more from the road-trip between the two stars, with increased (joke) references to sexual tension between them, as well as more from Big Chuck. Sigh. Apart from perhaps one marginally meaningful scene, there isn’t anything worthy included in this Extended Cut and all it does is drag out the feature beyond its already at-times painful duration.
At the end of the day the main failure lies with the writer and with the director who approved this end result – whether it be the Theatrical or Extended versions. Bateman and McCarthy (et al.) deserve far better than this and, if it wasn’t for the innate charm and dedication-to-the cause that they both display, this really would be a worthless wreck. As it is, there’s not enough here to even come close to warranting a recommendation. The best you’re going to get out of me is a recommendation to rent it before you even consider buying it. But if you’re smart, you’ll just leave it well alone and save yourself the disappointment. This could have been so much better.
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