The unspoken, modern day conception of the American Dream is to make vast amounts of money very quickly without actually expending effort. Deny it all you want, ye champions of rugged individualism and pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps Objectivists, but that won’t make it any less true. It is precisely in this context that Identity Thief may resonate with many viewers, as con-artist Denise lives the high life on other people’s dime. Factor in the larger-than-life personality of actress Melissa McCarthy and the stage was set for a genuinely funny story to unfold. Unfortunately, the genuinely funny story never actually happens.
Seth Gordon, responsible for several documentaries and a few feature films including Horrible Bosses, helms the production while determinedly ignoring the fact that documentaries are his only actual strength. Jason Bateman reprises his role as interchangeably generic white male du jour while Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) provides most of the comedic substance as his natural foil. Now, Bateman is by no means a bad actor, but can you honestly recall a role in which he’s really distinguished himself? Yeah, neither can I, which, upon reflection, is probably more a testament to his choice in roles as opposed to his ability as an actor.
Concerning the comedy, Gordon, who, along with writers Jerry Eeten and Craig Mazin, have conspired to create a script lacking in both wit and coherence and which never misses an opportunity to shoehorn in some bizarrely out of place pseudo-emotional scene which keeps the tone bouncing around like a yo-yo. What ever happened to wit? What happened to the Big Lebowski’s and Annie Hall’s of the world? Look, we get that Melissa McCarthy is a big woman, and sure, under the proper circumstances, that can be funny. Slapstick, after all, has its place; but when you base the vast majority of your comedic arsenal of visual gags and jabs at the admittedly unwieldy size of the woman, you might have a problem. What is sometimes hugely beneficial in moderation soon becomes trite and banal when overused, as is the case here.
In addition, the inclusion of a painfully arbitrary subplot involving a bounty hunter and a couple of mob hit-men (which eventually resolves itself without any input whatsoever on the part of the protagonists) does no credit to the film’s already weak plot. The aforementioned emotional scenes, likewise, only serve to confuse as Denise (McCarthy) suddenly breaks down on multiple occasions, right in the middle of generally ill-fated, nonsensical comedic pursuits, to pine for the family that she never had. I can appreciate the desire to add a more human element where none is usually found, but it’s so difficult to care about Denise as a person because she’s portrayed, not as an actual human, but as a versatile punching bag with an uncanny sense of comedic timing.
And that’s all there is to it. Not much substance thematically, comedically or visually. Seth Gordon should stick to directing documentaries, and, with luck, McCarthy will stand out in the upcoming Sandra Bullock film, The Heat. I would, however, like to remind my readers that I have been known to verbally crucify otherwise decent comedies for failing to cater to my admittedly brilliant (i.e pretentious) sense of humor. That said, you may enjoy Identity Thief if you have, in the past, been known to enjoy goofy comedies and the occasional Adam Sandler flick. Still, you could find many, more enjoyable lighthearted comedies, elsewhere.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5