One of the cornerstones of comedy is watching stupid people doing stupid things. However, watching supposedly smart people doing stupid things can be exasperating, which is what we find in the feature films of director Seth Gordon. For example, in his last film Horrible Bosses (my review here), three friends of seemingly reasonable intelligence decide to murder each others bosses, yet put next to no effort into planning these crimes that could land them in jail for the rest of their lives. The humor is supposed to come from how bumbling their error-prone attempts are, but it’s hardly satisfying when the movie is based on the vicarious thrill the audience is supposed to get from watching jerk bosses getting their comeuppance.
Unfortunately, Gordon’s latest film, Identity Thief, suffers from the same affliction, as we watch a man of at least average intelligence named Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) attempt to mitigate the damage done when his identity is stolen by flying across the country, confronting the woman who stole his identity (Melissa McCarthy), and attempting to transport her back across the country so she can be prosecuted — which is apparently necessary because neither the police, credit card companies, nor Sandy’s boss seem to understand what identity theft even is. Watch my ReThink Review of Identity Thief below (transcript following).
Director Seth Gordon burst onto the scene with The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, his breakout documentary about the cutthroat world of old school arcade competitions. Since it seemed like Gordon understood comedy, characters, and story, he was picked to direct scripted comedies — and that’s where the trouble started. First was Four Christmases in 2008, which earned a dismal 25% on Rotten Tomatoes, then 2011’s truly crummy Horrible Bosses, which squandered a top-notch comedic cast. And now we have Identity Thief, starring Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy, two of the most well-regarded actors in comedy. Unfortunately, Identity Thief shows that the sloppy storytelling and lame characters in Gordon’s first two films weren’t aberrations, but a pattern, in a movie so lazy it doesn’t bother to go beyond a first-grader’s understanding of how identity theft even works.
Bateman plays an underpaid accounting rep from Colorado named Sandy Patterson, which becomes a hilarious running joke since Sandy is a girl’s name! Sandy gets scammed by Diane (played by McCarthy) who lives in Florida and is a professional identity thief, though you wouldn’t know it by how carelessly she uses the credit cards she starts in Sandy’s name.
Because identity theft is apparently a crime so impenetrable that the police and credit card companies are incapable of stopping, tracking, or prosecuting it, Sandy makes the incomprehensible decision to fly to Florida to apprehend Diane and bring her back to Colorado so she can be charged with stealing his identity, since supposedly that’s the only way Sandy can clear his name and keep his lucrative new job. But when this genius plan goes awry, Sandy and Diane end up on a wacky road trip, with only a week to drive back to Colorado before Sandy loses his job. They’re pursued by the world’s most careless hitman (played by Robert Patrick) and two oddly good-looking criminals (played by Genesis Rodriguez and the rapper T.I.) who got swindled by Diane over forged credit cards.
I know Identity Thief isn’t a documentary, but as with Horrible Bosses, it’s impossible to get past how stupid the film’s premise and all the characters are. The movie seems to take place in a world where identity theft doesn’t exist, where credit card companies see no red flags when a man from Colorado starts multiple cards in Florida and racks up thousands in unusual charges. Sandy seems powerless to cancel any of Diane’s fraudulent cards, and the police are totally unwilling or unable to stop her, despite the fact that they have her photo and address.
Not only does Sandy’s ridiculous scheme make no sense, but Sandy’s wife as well as the police basically sign off on his plan to essentially become a bounty hunter and capture and transport a potentially dangerous criminal across state lines. In addition, the hitman trying to find Sandy and Diane seems to be going out of his way to draw attention to himself by needlessly threatening people, and Sandy’s new boss (played by John Cho) is so clueless about identity theft that he plans to fire Sandy for things he couldn’t possibly have done. This might cut it for a movie about people with traumatic brain injuries, but not in a world of seemingly normal people.
But the biggest shame in all of this is that while Bateman is adequate at playing the exasperated straight man, McCarthy really shines as a career thief who spends her loot trying to get people to like her, which could be a potentially fascinating character. Identity Thief is McCarthy’s first starring role in a major movie, and while the script and story suck, she not only owns the screen while showing her impressive physical and improvisational comedic talents, but that she’s also capable of some great acting and is more than able to pull off more serious dramatic roles. But by no means is that a good enough reason to see Identity Thief, a movie so dumb you’ll wonder how characters like this could’ve survived into adulthood.