With Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, John Cho, Amanda Peet, Robert Patrick. Written by Craig Mazin. Directed by Seth Gordon. Rated R for sexual content and language. 112 minutes.
It may be too soon to call IDENTITY THIEF the worst film of the year, but there’s no doubt that it will be a contender. From its absurd opening to its sappy close, it is a complete catastrophe. With a few trappings added about the real-life crime of identity theft, this is just another comedy of humiliation in which we’re supposed to be cheering for the victimizer.
Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) is an underpaid flunky in a Denver financial company who is supposedly one of the best at what he does in running the company’s books. So why he would give his birthday and Social Security number (!) to a total stranger on the phone already suggests that script writer Craig Mazin assumes people in charge of overseeing millions of dollars in assets are utter fools.
In fact, the call is from Diana (Melissa McCarthy), who assumes his identity – since “Sandy” could be male or female – and starts maxing out his credit cards. When he is arrested for her activities and the police (fronted by an utterly wasted Morris Chestnut) tell him there’s not much they can do, he decides to go to Florida and capture her himself, bringing her back to Colorado to face charges.
Now don’t start asking questions like why doesn’t he contact the authorities in Florida – or the FBI – because that will prove you have more brain cells operating than anyone involved in this movie. Instead, we get a set-up in which a) they have to drive together across the country and, b) there is a bounty hunter (Robert Patrick in full redneck mode) and two killers chasing after them.
Hmm. Road trip, one character a straight arrow and the other aggressively stupid. After humiliating and injuring the straight arrow for much of the film, he comes to realize the buffoon is really a good if misunderstood person, and everyone embraces for a big happy ending. Sound familiar? Sound like “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles?” “Get Him to the Greek?” “Due Date?” Yes, right down to having to make the trip in a certain period of time, and the sense that the straight arrow is now a better person for having been exposed to and coming to accept the person who has abused him.
As for the humiliation, Bateman excels at playing the patsy, which isn’t the same as saying it is enjoyable watching him do so. As Diana, McCarthy physically attacks him (the punch to the throat is her specialty), and convinces other people that she is the victim in their non-existent relationship. This reaches the lowest point when she picks up a guy in a bar and explains that Sandy is her husband who is unable to perform sexually but “likes to watch” and then proceeds to make him do just that. Why people are under the impression that either of these two performers are amusing or entertaining is a mystery.
Her redemption is a total contrivance as is his change of heart, and the way all of Sandy’s problems are neatly resolved is simply not believable, even if you’re willing to play along. McCarthy is as grating a presence as ever to the point that she’s edging into Adam Sandler/Rob Schneider territory while the supporting cast is completely wasted. Besides Chestnut and Patrick, there’s some brief scenery chewing from Jon Favreau and a phoned-in turn by Amanda Peet. These are talented actors who deserve so much better.
Indeed, so do we. Spare yourself “Identity Thief.” And hope that it really is the worst film of 2013. If it is, that means it will only get better from here on in.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.