I really despise movie trailers that present one type of movie when the actual movie is something completely different. Even worse, comedies tend to show you the best jokes in the trailer so that, when you see those parts in the actual movie, they’re no longer funny. This trick is typical of the spoof series like Scary Movie; the result is a boring or unfunny experience. Some of you may have seen the trailer for Identity Thief or the teaser poster that asks if Jason Bateman has the face of a sucker. Sadly, anyone who goes to see Identity Thief is a sucker because they pulled the trailer bait and switch. The trailer makes it look like a raucous comedy when it’s actually a film without any true identity because of a poor attempt to mix a variety of genres and tonal shifts into one flick.
Director Seth Gordon (director of the better Bateman vehicle Horrible Bosses) and writer Craig Mazin (cowriter of The Hangover Part II, Scary Movie 3 and Scary Movie 4) have a great concept but ruin it in the execution despite their potential for delivering laughs. Sandy Bigelow Patterson (Bateman) is a Denver accountant with horrible boss Harold Cornish (Jon Favreau in a small role) and ambitious coworker Daniel Casey (John Cho). When Sandy tries to buy gas with a credit card one day, he’s told that his card has been declined. When he’s later pulled over by Detective Reilly (Morris Chestnut), he also learns that he has a warrant out for his arrest from Florida. The detective bit is kind of silly because extradition is not something that happens as easily as giving someone a ticket. This plot has plenty of ridiculous, convenient plot points, but I’d ignore all of it if they resulted in laughs. They don’t.
As I’m sure you know by now, Sandy discovers that a larger-than-life woman in Florida (Melissa McCarthy), who calls herself “Diana” when not going by Sandy, has stolen his identity and charged thousands of dollars to his credit cards. Sandy somehow makes a deal with the detective to clear his name if he can produce this woman and she admits to her actions. So far, this is all straight out of the trailer. Sandy goes down to Florida, confronts Diana and fights with her to take her back to Denver. That has all of the makings of a great comedy, especially since producer Bateman evidently snapped up McCarthy for this role right after seeing Bridesmaids. Unfortunately, it all turns into a mess as Identity Thief takes on the trappings of a road trip, crime spree, heist film, heartwarming family film and gross-out comedy all in one. The good supporting cast should provide more laughs, but they’re underutilized or turned into caricatures. Trish Patterson (Amanda Peet) holds down the fort in Denver, a skip tracer (Robert Patrick) wants to collect a bounty on Diana, cowboy Big Chuck (Eric Stonestreet) parties with Diana and Julian (Tip “T.I” Harris) and Marisol (Genesis Rodriguez) have a beef with Diana that results in gunplay. That’s way too much for one movie. Just like The Guilt Trip went flat after a good start, Identity Thief just goes everywhere and nowhere at once with its slipshod approach to a plot.
I loved McCarthy in Bridesmaids because she was irreverent, disgusting, offensive and hilarious all at once. There are hints of her skills here in scenes as varied as a party in a bar and her endless physical work with Bateman. It seems like she has also picked up an unofficial theme song because “Bad Girls” by M.I.A. is heard a couple of times in Identity Thief as well as in the trailer to The Heat with Sandra Bullock. Bateman plays a smug, sarcastic guy so well that it would be a surprise to see him as any other type of character. He balances McCarthy nicely as the sort of yin and yang of this movie. Just imagine the film if McCarthy and Bateman had switched roles. It’s telling that Cho is not part of the comedy here and just one of the background characters.
Identity Thief was the #1 movie in America for its first weekend, but I predict that word of mouth will knock the film off its perch in a nosedive from the top spot. I should really knock off a star from my rating for the blatant misrepresentation of this film in the trailer, but it did elicit a few laughs in between me shaking my head at the stupid plot points. By their very nature, identity thieves are despicable people who ruin the lives of dozens or hundreds of people for their own gain. If you’re going to make a comedy about one and expect your audience not to hate her guts, the laughs had better come at a rapid fire instead of in dribbles. You’re better off watching Bridesmaids again.