By Bob Garver
Feb. 11, 2013. After its first act, “Identity Thief” becomes a predictable, mildly amusing road trip comedy. This is actually a really good creative decision because the film is effectively cutting its losses after realizing that it can’t keep milking laughs from identity theft. I can accept that it’s supposed to be funny to see Melissa McCarthy’s con artist “Diana” paint the town red with ill-gotten funds. But I simply cannot buy into the humor involving Jason Bateman’s hapless victim Sandy Patterson. Granted, not everything about his ruin is played for laughs, but it isn’t funny to see him constantly treated with rudeness and incompetence by people who think he’s a loser. Nor is it funny to see people make fun of him for having the name Sandy, a gag that is used liberally even after the worst is over.
“Diana” ruins Sandy’s life with her scheme, affecting everything from his credit to his career to his personal reputation. This is coming at a horrible time for Sandy, as he and his wife (Amanda Peet) are soon expecting their third child. The police are portrayed as powerless, so Sandy heads to Florida to try and coax “Diana” into traveling with him back to Denver to confess. She’s understandably resistant (in the form of a punch to the throat), but leaving town with an escort might protect her from violent retaliation from more bloodthirsty victims. Even with her relative cooperation, “Diana” isn’t an ideal travel companion. Her obnoxiousness and disobedience promise to drive Sandy crazy, as if he weren’t already at his breaking point over the identity theft.
The pair’s adventures include eluding gangsters (Genesis Rodriguez and T.I., in the film solely to appear in trailers) and a bounty hunter (Robert Patrick, in the film for reasons undetermined), multiple fights and car crashes, a snake attack, and an identity theft scam of their own against Sandy’s former boss (Jon Favreau, in the film for a total of one scene). The most notable detour is a romantic rendezvous with a southern-friend real estate agent (Eric Stonestreet). It’s a gross scene, but I laughed, and I’d rather watch it again than that horrific GoDaddy ad from the Super Bowl. Eventually we see a more sympathetic side to “Diana” and Sandy struggles with the decision whether or not to turn her in.
The humor is the standard R-rated comedy fare. Profanity and sexual references are thrown around a lot. McCarthy, to her credit, throws her back into more than her fair share of physical gags. Several jokes are made at the expense of “Diana’s” weight and appearance. One gag that’s used quite often is one where “Diana” tells a stranger a wild story about Sandy (usually involving his genitalia) and Sandy tries to deny it, but the stranger doesn’t believe him. These gags are supposed to tell us that “Diana” is good at lying and Sandy is bad at defending himself, but really they just tell us that the strangers doing the judging are stupid.
Bateman’s character is a square and the script is even flatter than you probably expect. So your opinion of “Identity Thief” boils down to how much you can laugh at Melissa McCarthy. For many people, that’s a lot. She earned an Oscar nomination last year for “Bridesmaids”, a rarity for such a vulgar comedy. I’ll admit that she’s easily the best thing about this movie, even if she does often resort to crass clichés. That isn’t to say that she “saves” the film by any means. At best, “Identity Thief” is a mostly-mediocre comedy, at worst it’s an instruction manual for future identity thieves.
One and a Half Stars out of Five.
“Identity Thief” is rated R for sexual content and language. Its running time is 112 minutes.