Movie Review: “Identity Thief”

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I suppose “Identity Thief” was a good idea on paper. Jason Bateman is always likable and usually pretty funny, Melissa McCarthy was hilarious in “Bridesmaids,” director Seth Gordon, along with Bateman, made the above-average comedy “Horrible Bosses,” and the concept of identity theft has some untapped potential for edgy comedy.

The result, thought, is a disaster, lurching awkwardly from one tone to another. It’s way too long with too many characters, and seriously short on laughs all the while. Steve Conrad’s script is also full of glaring plot holes, and is frequently happy to make characters behave like complete idiots. And on top of all that, a first-rate cast is sadly wasted.

Bateman plays Sandy, a Denver-based family man and financial middle manager who’s up for a promotion- in just about every one of Bateman’s movies, he’s up for a promotion- until he has his identity stolen by a Florida con artist (McCarthy.)

Because involving the federal government in a slam-dunk case of interstate financial crime would be too difficult, Bateman decides to fly to Florida, apprehend McCarthy himself, and personally extradite her back to Colorado. This convoluted and idiotic plan, of course, goes wrong- the two find themselves on the run from both a bounty hunter (Robert Patrick) and professional killers (T.I. and Genesis Rodriguez) and the movie turns into a road trip comedy that steals just about all of its ideas from “Midnight Run” and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”

“Due Date,” the comedy from a few years ago with Robert Downey, Jr. and Zach Galifianakis, was a shameless ripoff of those movies too, but at least added some creativity to the mix. Not so here.

“Identity Thief” goes wrong in any number of ways, from a series of long, laugh-free stretches, to inclusion of four or five elaborate chase scenes that could easily have been one or two, to occasional forays into darkness and pathos, before the movie lurches right back into slapstick. Characters make unrealistically stupid decisions more times than in any movie I can remember. And the movie is a shade under two hours- just ridiculously long for a comedy, especially one so inconsequential.

Bateman is fine, I suppose, even if he’s playing the straight man the way he did on Arrested Development and in countless movie roles since. McCarthy deserves admiration for going all out physically, but a little of her can go a long way, especially since the element of surprise with her is sort of gone at this point.

But one of the movie’s biggest crimes is how much it wastes its supporting cast. Amanda Peet, a usually formidable actress, is a total nonentity as Bateman’s wife, who we keep expecting to stand up and some point and question her husband’s silly plan. The film completely squanders Breaking Bad‘s great Jonathan Banks, playing a jailed mob boss who literally phones in his two-scene performance. And while Patrick makes an impression, the movie never gets around to telling us who it was who hired him.

Probably worst of all, “Identity Thief” gives Modern Family‘s Eric Stonestreet what appears to be a plum supporting part, but a couple of scenes later the script sells out the character in a pretty nasty way, one that’s not especially funny. But that’s not all- not to spoil anything, but let’s just say the script lets one character get away with a pretty huge misdeed that it shouldn’t let them get away with.

The film’s director, Seth Gordon, previously made “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters,” a look at the two guys trying to break the world record in Donkey Kong, and one of the best documentaries of the last ten years. His “Horrible Bosses” was pretty funny, but for his next film, I’d advise that he go a little smaller.

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