People love a good road movie, but not as much as screenwriters. Though it’s a genre where the basic formula couldn’t be more set (travelling companions, usually mismatched, are fundamentally changed by and bond over strange events), the road movie also gives writers total freedom to throw all kinds of bizarre situations in the way of their characters. Some of the funniest, craziest films in history have been road movies. Unfortunately, Identity Thief won’t be joining those ranks anytime soon.
Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) is a lowly accounts supervisor at a securities firm. With two young daughters and a third baby on the way, he and wife Trish (Amanda Peet) are barely making ends meet, and when he’s offered a vice-presidency at a new firm, he jumps at the chance. Soon, however, he discovers that his identity has been stolen by con-artist Diana (Melissa McCarthy), who has maxed out his credit cards, been arrested for assault, and has outstanding warrants, all in his name.
The confusion with the police clears up quickly once they get a copy of Diana’s mugshot, but Sandy’s reputation and his new job are still in jeopardy. A detective tells him they can’t prosecute, however, unless the thief is present in their jurisdiction, so Sandy decides to track down Diana in Florida and fly her back to Denver himself. Things don’t go as planned, and Sandy and Diana end up driving cross-country, pursued separately by a pair of assassins (Genesis Rodriguez, T.I.) and a crusty skip tracer (Robert Patrick).
Identity Thief gets off to a bad start with its very concept. Road movies often rely on wild contrivance to force characters together, and a setup like this one isn’t bad, really. But why do the characters here act like identity theft is some new thing they’ve never heard of before? Surely both cops and investment bankers should know better than anyone how easy it is to cause havoc with stolen personal data, but they come down on poor Sandy like a ton of bricks, and the urgency forced on him doesn’t ring true. When a movie can’t even establish a realistic motivation for its hero, it’s in trouble.
Even worse, writer Craig Mazin seems to have forgotten to put the jokes in his script. Bateman is as reliable a straight man as they come, McCarthy specializes in brassy, almost-lovable kooks like Diana, and director Seth Gordon has some decent comedy on his resume, but they all have nothing to work with here. To be fair, they manage to squeeze some chuckles out of the best lines, and a sequence featuring Modern Family‘s Eric Stonestreet as an amorous cowboy is almost there, but the rest of the film runs on flat tires.
Eventually, Identity Thief attempts a heartwarming tone, as Diana opens up about her past and Sandy learns to loosen up a little. It will strongly remind you of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, a far superior comedy that’s a better use of your time. Midnight Run is another good alternative.
Tags: movie review