Combustible Celluloid
Get the Poster
Own it:
Search for streaming:
NetflixHuluGoogle PlayGooglePlayCan I
With: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Jon Favreau, Amanda Peet, T.I., Genesis Rodriguez, Morris Chestnut, John Cho, Robert Patrick, Eric Stonestreet, Ryan Gaul
Written by: Craig Mazin, based on a story by Jerry Eeten, Craig Mazin
Directed by: Seth Gordon
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content and language
Running Time: 112
Date: 07/02/2013

Identity Thief (2013)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Social Insecurity Numbers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When Melissa McCarthy received a much-deserved Oscar nomination for her supporting performance in Bridesmaids, it was a moment for applause -- great comic actors rarely get that honor -- and also one for reflection. What could Ms. McCarthy do next?

It only makes sense that she would be promoted to leading roles, which could be a mistake. What if she's better as a character actress? What if the entire movie is a joke about her weight and appearance?

Now that the new Identity Thief is here, we have proof that McCarthy is capable enough to stand up under scrutiny. She's just as wonderful here as she is in Bridesmaids. Moreover, her co-star Jason Bateman, one of our best current straight men, is a great match for her. They make a terrific team. It's just too bad that Identity Thief did not try harder.

Peppered in and around all the sweet and bittersweet comic goodness between these two actors, we have tons of plot about bounty hunters, drug lords, and car chases, plus broad slapstick, including snakes crawling up pant legs, and fat cowboys wearing baggy white underpants.

This is just lazy filmmaking, done according to marketing and test groups. It's too risky to let the movie rest entirely on the two stars. How could it be visual? Apparently it's not enough that McCarthy and Bateman make such a strikingly opposite comic team, like a modern Laurel & Hardy. An intuitive or cleverer filmmaker could have made great use of this. But no. Apparently a car driving the wrong way down a freeway is necessary.

Anyway, McCarthy plays Diana, a master con woman who steals the identity of Sandy Patterson (Bateman), taking advantage of his feminine name (yes... this joke is milked several times). The local cops in Denver won't do anything (apparently the FBI doesn't exist in this movie) so Sandy decides to travel to Florida to catch her himself. The plot requires that they travel cross-country together, and here it is decided that Diana's fake "Sandy Patterson" ID won't allow her to get on a plane with the real Sandy Patterson. I guess it didn't occur to them that she could use a different ID, either fake or real, to get on the plane.

This road trip movie with mismatched traveling companions was done better in Planes, Trains and Automobiles and worse in Due Date. The best thing about Identity Thief is watching McCarthy slowly morph from perhaps the nastiest movie villain of the year to one of the most sympathetic. She wins you over, subtly, in front of your eyes, without you ever realizing it.

She pulls this off with the same winning combo she used in Bridesmaids: she's tough and confident and brassy and carries her body well, but she also allows for these things to cover up a hugely painful vulnerability and sensitivity. When her character gets the requisite "makeover" scene, for example, it actually comes across as genuine.

It goes without saying that the movie just dies whenever these two are not onscreen, preferably together. Subplots involving other actors, Genesis Rodriguez, T.I., and Robert Patrick, for example, can't even sustain a comic tone, much less any momentum. The director is Seth Gordon, who made the terrific documentary The King of Kong and the hilarious Horrible Bosses, as well as the terrible Four Christmases. This one falls in the middle somewhere, and proves that Gordon still has some things to learn.

But, happily, it suggests that McCarthy could have a nice long run after her Oscar nomination, provided she can keep working her magic within the confines of all-too-ordinary material. Hopefully, though, she can someday get some superior material that's worthy of her talents.{subid}&url=hitlist.asp?searchfield=marvel
Watch Palm Springs on Hulu
Buy Movies from The Movie Collector's Website. FREE U.S. SHIPPING WITH ANY $50 ORDER!!