Perhaps Seth Gordon should consider a return to documentaries. His debut film, 2007’s King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, revealed him as a director with a knack for telling an offbeat story, and a keen eye for catching subtle character quirks. His first comedy Four Christmases was a forgettable piece of holiday tripe, and though his follow-up feature Horrible Bosses showed notable signs of improvement, the tedious and unforgivably overlong Identity Thief may give Todd Phillips’ Due Date a run for worst buddy comedy of the decade thus far.
Sandy Bigelow Patterson (Jason Bateman) has a problem. A Denver family man who's always been responsible with his personal finances, he is shocked to learn that his credit score is in shambles. But it gets worse -- if he can't clear his name in a week, the mix-up could very well cost him his job. Fortunately Sandy is in luck; after the unrepentant Florida fraudster (Melissa McCarthy) who stole his identity causes a stir in a club and misses her court date, Sandy is arrested and promptly released when detectives request a mug shot, and realize their mistake. When the police refuse to offer any help, Sandy realizes that his only choice is to catch the imposter himself and bring her back to Denver to face justice. Unfortunately, this wily thief isn't going down without a fight, and with a grizzled skip tracer (Robert Patrick) and a pair of vicious gangsters (Genesis Rodriguez and T.I.) determined to get the fake Sandy first, every step will be a struggle.
Every time we walk into the movies, it’s expected that we’ll be willing to surrender a certain amount of disbelief -- it’s a kind of unwritten contract we enter into with the filmmakers when we purchase our ticket. Some screenwriters use that to their advantage by cranking up the levels of absurdity to near fever-pitch levels, pulling out all the stops to keep us doubled over with laughter; others merely take advantage of it, casually ignoring the details in a lazy bid to go for easy laughs. The comedic mastermind behind Scary Movie 3 and 4 and The Hangover Part II, screenwriter Craig Mazin falls into the latter category with Identity Thief. Here, as with virtually every other film he’s penned, Mazin is obviously going for lowbrow laughs, but his writing just isn’t sharp or perceptive enough to make it feel effortless and natural. As a result, once we get past a promising setup that echoes Horrible Bosses, Identity Thief stalls out just while struggling to decide whether it wants to wallow in cartoonish excess, or become a heartwarming comedy about a misunderstood monster with a penchant for throat-punching. It doesn’t help that Melissa McCarthy seems content just to coast on the overconfident fat-chick schtick that made her a standout in Bridesmaids, or that Jason Bateman refuses to shift out of his terminally nice-guy mode for more than a scene or two (one of which, where he fires back at his obnoxious traveling companion in a motel lobby, is a comedic high point), and since the rest of the cast is instantly forgettable, sans Jon Favreau in a brief cameo, Identity Thief feels painfully misguided for nearly every one of its interminable 108 minutes.
In all fairness, the failure of Identity Thief doesn’t fall entirely on Gordon; his features just seem to offer testament that without an inspired script to guide him, he’s a fairly pedestrian director. Inspired is the last label one would put on a comedy that resorts to milking a 10-year-old R&B hit (Kelis’ “Milkshake”) not once but twice for laughs. Of course as films like Planes, Trains and Automobiles have proven, there’s something to be said about formula films done right, but in this case the recipe is off, ensuring that moviegoers are more likely to suffer bellyaches than belly-laughs. leave a comment --Jason Buchanan