The new comedy Identity Thief couldn’t be more timely, what with the whole Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax story, the popularity of the MTV show Catfish, increasing concerns about privacy on Facebook, and instances of actual identity theft becoming more common.
Plus, it has Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy in the lead roles, and Seth Gordon (who directed the very funny Horrible Bosses) behind the camera, so it’s primed to tap into the zeitgeist in amusing fashion.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t really make good on that promise.
Early on, we watch as Bateman’s character, mild-mannered family man Sandy Bigelow Patterson, receives a phone call from his credit card company asking him to verify his date of birth, social security number, and other information, which he does.
Turns out, the call was actually coming from a woman in Winter Hill, Fla., named Diana (McCarthy), who has created a nice — albeit tacky — lifestyle for herself by perpetrating such scams on innocent victims, creating credit and ID cards for herself, passing herself off as them, then going on excessive spending sprees.
Sandy is already in a tight financial situation, what with two kids and another one on the way, so when he’s accused of going way over his credit limit and skipping out on a court date, he flies right down from Denver to Florida to track down the real perp and bring her to justice.
Talk about a high-concept setup.
Bateman brings his straight-laced comedic talents and McCarthy, as usual, goes all-in, reveling in her character’s wacky glory. Together, these two have good chemistry, and they seem game for anything (McCarthy especially).
But Identity Thief very quickly turns into one of those episodic, mismatched-buddy road-trip comedies we’ve all seen so many times before (including, most recently, the much better The Guilt Trip), as these two stop along the way and run into such folks as Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet and The Office’s Ellie Kemper, and eventually reach a bit of common ground and understanding shortly before they arrive in Denver.
Oh, and there’s an intentionally unfunny subplot involving an imprisoned criminal, a pair of killers (one of whom is played by rapper T.I.), and a skip-tracer (Robert Patrick), all of whom are on Diana’s tail, but this never pays off and just sorta fizzles out in the end.
Diana may have committed some crimes, but the biggest one here seems to have been perpetrated by Craig Mazin, whose unoriginal and inconsistently funny screenplay has let everybody down — including the aforementioned supporting players and others like Amanda Peet and Jon Favreau.
And yet, it says something about how likeable Bateman and McCarthy are as actors that despite the tepid material they’re working with, they’re somehow still able to earn our affection. When the truth comes out about Diana’s motives, it plays like a scene right out of the Catfish TV show or Dr. Phil (where Roniah Tuisosopo recently went to tell his side of the Manti Te’o story), and damn if McCarthy’s sweetness doesn’t make you feel at least a little bit of empathy.
It’s because of the two stars that Identity Thief is (minimally) better than the sum of its parts.
Make no mistake: This is in no way a must-see movie. But if you find yourself in a theater watching Identity Thief, you won’t feel like you’ve been completely ripped off.
I’m giving this one a B–.
What’s your favorite road-trip movie? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.