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Identity Thief (A Movie Review)

Identity Thief


Starring Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Amanda Peet, Morris Chestnut, Jon Favreau, John Cho, Tip 'T.I.' Harris, Genesis Rodriguez, Robert Patrick, Eric Stonestreet, Ellie Kemper, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, Mary-Charles Jones, Jonathan Banks and Ben Falcone.

Screenplay by Craig Mazin.

Directed by Seth Gordon.

Distributed by Universal Pictures. 111 minutes. Rated R.

Note to Hollywood: You are really misusing Melissa McCarthy.

She is funny and smart, but you could barely tell that from the way the movies (and TV) tend to pigeonhole her as a frumpy, overweight head cases. I understand that it is a little odd to find a plus-sized woman approaching stardom. However, that stardom is coming, well sort of, and if she keeps taking roles like this it will be very short term.

Oddly, the best and worst thing that has ever happened to McCarthy's career was her breakout supporting role as an extremely odd future sister-in-law in the smash hit Bridesmaids. In that role she was very funny and yet she was also disturbingly odd and debauched. It was sort of the female Zach Galifianakis role.

Yet, with the exception of her long-time supporting role as Lauren Graham's best friend Sookie on Gilmore Girls, she almost never has gotten a character which seems like a real live human being. They try with her current almost-hit sitcom Mike and Molly, but the writing isn't strong enough to really let McCarthy shine, though she is usually better than her material.

Now that films have discovered her, though, she is being groomed for more Bridesmaids lite. The fact that they have dressed her and made her up like a troll doll through 3/4 of her new movie Identity Thief – her first opportunity in the lead role of a major motion picture – is bad enough. Beyond this shorthand dismissal of her – she looks bad so she must be bad – her character is a big jumble of contradictions.

Playing "Diana," a woman in Florida who calls people up, tricks them into giving personal data, copies their driver's licenses and credit cards and starts buying entire bars of strangers rounds and rounds of drinks. She's not even doing it just to survive – the purchases she makes and the laws that she breaks are all completely unnecessary.

As far as we can tell, or at least as far as this film is willing to delve, "Diana" became a sociopathic, hording identity thief because she was abandoned as a child, lived in foster homes and now as an adult she finds that the beautiful people mock her behind her back.

All horrible things, but none are excuses for the things that she does.

Yet as the film goes on, it turns out that this completely amoral con artist is really a big softy who just wants to be loved. Heartless con artist or lonely, misunderstood survivor just looking for attention? The film tries to have it both ways. Unfortunately, they never quite sell the transformation. Diana segues from vulgar harpy to sweet, misunderstood victim in no time flat. The problem is that she is horrifyingly offensive (and not in a clever way) as a bad person and she is wishy-washy as good.

Part of the problem is the fact that she is just one of two unlikeable lead characters in Identity Thief. Jason Bateman plays one of his specialty uptight corporate drones, a Colorado accountant who is Diana's latest victim. Now his life is falling apart, he's tens of thousands of dollars in debt, his credit cards are maxed out, he's being arrested, and he can't afford to make a home for his sweet, pretty, pregnant wife (Amanda Peet) and their two (soon to be three) cutesy daughters.

Then again, we see in one of the first scenes how easily he fell for her scam, and the audience can't help but think that perhaps he deserves to lose his job and his money. The problem is the police in this world (well at least one Colorado cop) are completely unwilling to help him, so when he goes to Florida to find the criminal who made his life a living hell, and he doesn't even bother to try contacting the local authorities. Or at least, that's what they're trying to convince us.

Of course, lots of the legal ideas here seem a little shaky. At one point Sandy tells Diana that he was able to track down her birth certificate – a document she had never been able to find with the real name that she never even knew – because they had her fingerprints. Excuse me, are they suggesting that hospitals fingerprint babies? And even allowing the film it's conceit, if it were that easy, wouldn't the police or Diana herself have found the document before now?

McCarthy and Bateman do their best – their performances and personalities are the only things that this film really has going for it – but eventually even they can't salvage the annoying characters and silly contrivances of Identity Thief.

Ken Sharp

Copyright ©2013 All rights reserved. Posted: February 6, 2013.


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