Need endorphins? The box office stands ready to accommodate. Ribald, relentless, and eminently enjoyable, Identity Thief offers the off-color comedy enthusiast sumptuous fare indeed. From director Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses) comes this raucous road movie starring Jason Bateman as Sandy Patterson, financial manager and loving family man, who finds himself facing down Melissa McCarthy’s Sandy Patterson, aka Diana, aka the identity thief who dismantled his life with a recent unauthorized shopping spree.
When the justice system fails him, Sandy figures his best chance of recovery is to recover her himself, and thus begins this latest of the genre, reminiscent of the gold standard Midnight Run (if you haven’t seen that, queue it up for after). This of course proves exponentially more difficult than Sandy had imagined, as naturally Diana resists the idea and has two other interested and dangerously single-minded parties already in hot pursuit.
With Horrible Bosses, I remarked that Bateman has elevated his straight man to a high art, and with Identity Thief he’s earned his place next to Alan Arkin (if you haven’t seen the
original only version worth seeing of The In-Laws, you need to have that queued up as well ~ you have a busy weekend ahead). Maintaining the expression he did while being “seduced” with a belt (I’ll say no more) can only have been accomplished by pondering death and taxes. The man’s a marvel. With him we stare agog at Diana’s manipulations (finagling ribs and sweet-talking Eric Stonestreet’s sincere Big Chuck shall not soon be forgotten), and through him we’re able to experience comedic chemistry at its best.
McCarthy is, of course, the more obvious draw, and Bateman sets her off to spectacular advantage; it’s wondrous just to watch the woman work. Creating Diana in three-dimensions, McCarthy flashes constantly along a continuum, keeping us ever guessing as to which aspect of her personality will carry the moment – the actual human being lurking deep (deep!) within, the emotionally wounded outcast nursing a self-medicating shopping addiction, or the amoral grasper aggressively helping herself to the next hedonistic indulgence.
That last one’s a doozy, and it becomes clear within minutes that Sandy would have been wise to have first procured some gear from Dog the Bounty Hunter. Diana’s quick to correct the natural inclination to underestimate, and does so with a vengeance. We join with Sandy in seeking the peaceful resolution, but quickly come to support his decision to swing a guitar at her head (word has it Bateman also grabbed the wrong Panini maker by mistake, lobbing a real one at McCarthy instead of the prop). We keep thinking that she’ll back down either by wisdom or by necessity, but Diana is simply relentless, giving the film a delightful sense of having no idea how far things will go. (Note: It’s far). Kinda fun to watch her make Robert Patrick work as hard as he had to with John Connor though.
The one thing keeping Identity Thief from greatness is its wholly unnecessary third party in pursuit. So underdeveloped are this pair that they offer nothing but distraction and time bloat; a little script tweaking and they could easily have been cut completely with the film the better for it. No reflection on T.I. and Genesis Rodriguez, who did fine with what they were given; Rodriguez, in fact, had caught my attention as someone to watch after Man on a Ledge, but here she was wasted.
The script could also have benefited from a smidge more exploration in to the identity angle, of what it means to know and live out one’s true identity; it touches on this as a rock skips a surface, but a few extra skips would have been wonderful (as the accomplished skipper, so goes the skilled screenwriter). Funny ~ the day of the screening I watched some Law & Order: SVU while munching lunch (it was the episode with Martin Short, love him), and Olivia says to a suspect, “You didn’t make him good, he made you bad.”
Then, while writing this piece, a quote by George Bernard Shaw crossed my desk: “I am afraid we must make the world honest before we can honestly say to our children that honesty is the best policy.” As it stands, Sandy and Diana address both notions in quieter moments, but I would love to have seen them infused into the ongoing bickering as well. Had this been done so, Identity Thief could have reached the richness of Bridesmaids.
Identity Thief isn’t perfect, but so what? Bateman and McCarthy are, and that more than adequately carries the day. Also, it’s fantastic for the endorphins. It’s been documented that laughter increases health in all manner of ways, and I personally watched Identity Thief prove itself: my screening guest went in looking bleary and frayed around the edges from a grueling week of tending a seriously ailing loved one, and she walked out smiling, relaxed, and clearly refreshed.
If you’re going to have a date or friend along, bear in mind that Identity Thief is delightfully lewd and overtly sexual, so plan accordingly (think Bridesmaids). Keep your eyes open for the cameo by Ben Falcone, and enjoy the best bar meetup since Pretty Woman.
Identity Thief, then Midnight Run, then The In-Laws. Your immune system’ll thank you for it. Guaranteed.