Shitting in a sink is a tough act to follow.
Melissa McCarthy may have logged hours on Gilmore Girls and Mike & Molly, but her star broached the stratosphere the moment she soiled a posh, cream-white dressing room in Paul Feig’s irreverent Bridesmaids. That scene-stealing performance earned McCarthy two chances this year to convince audiences she’s capable of carrying oneleg of a harmless buddy comedy (the next being Feig's The Heat). So far, though, the gifted comedian’s only being asked to recycle the obnoxious, uncouth and inappropriate persona that she already milked for laughs.
If you weren’t paying attention to the credits, Identity Thief could be mistaken for the latest Todd Phillips comedy. Whether that’s an endorsement or a warning depends on your tastes.
McCarthy plays Diana, an unseemly Floridian con artist who – in the opening scene – dupes her mark into sharing his vital statistics (name, date of birth, credit card number) over the phone. That would be Sandy Bigelow Patterson (Jason Bateman) a mild-mannered Denver accountant with a gorgeous wife (Amanda Peet), two precocious kids, and a selfish boss (Jon Favreau) who is screwing him at every turn.
Sandy’s thrown a lifeline by an entrepreneurial colleague (John Cho) starting his own company. Better salary. A vice president’s title. It all sounds too good to be true. Unfortunately, before Sandy can move in to the corner office, he’s told that his credit scores are in the toilet and he’s wanted in the Sunshine State for skipping a mandatory court date. His identity has been stolen.
Proper authorities would attempt to assist Patterson at this point. But because Identity Thief was plotted by Craig Mazin – whose screenwriting credits include two Scary Movie sequels, two Hangover sequels and Superhero Movie -- we instead plunge headlong into the improbable and flail around in search of broad comedy.
Sandy convinces his employers to give him one week to lure Diana back to Denver. He cooks up an elaborate sting operation that will trick the diminutive crook into confessing her crimes. Apparently flying from Florida isn’t an option (because a deceptive identity thief like Diana supposedly doesn’t have false credentials that will get her on an airplane), so Mazin and director Seth Gordon do their best impersonation of Due Date, putting polar opposites behind the wheel for a series of ludicrous, violent and demeaning pit stops.
McCarthy and Bateman riff on variations of the established snob-and-slob personalities. Twenty years ago, this vehicle would have been shaped around Chris Farley and David Spade. The pair does find ways to make the inevitable odd-couple cliché click, though. Thief works best when its leads can dance around whatever silly situation Mazin hands them, be it a motel tryst with an amorous cowboy (Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet) or the film’s purest blast of guilt-free comedy involving Bateman and a six-foot-long snake.
For whatever reason, though, Thief keeps slowing down to introduce new characters through subplots that ultimately add little to the mix. Comedy might be the only genre that can be done in by too much plot. Do we really need Genesis Rodriguez and hip-hop artist T.I. as gangsters looking to kill Diana because she scammed them with bogus credit cards? No. They answer to Paolo (the great Jonathan Banks), a Godfather-type mob boss who pulls strings from his prison cell in a series of scenes that likely beefed up a subplot that landed on the cutting room floor. Speaking of, that’s where Gordon should have left Robert Patrick’s contributions as Skiptracer, a bounty hunter also assigned to capturing Diana. Remove any – or all – of these characters from the mix and you’re left with a blessedly shorter version of basically the same movie.
Identity Thief isn’t odious. It’s just predictable. Lazy comedies cast the overweight McCarthy as the bullish deadbeat and the conservative Bateman as the buttoned-down bean counter. Gordon could have helped his film establish its own identity by having his talented leads switch characters. Make Bateman ditch his uptight comedic crutch to play a low-life criminal dirt bag. Gamble on McCarthy as the respectable female executive who’s victimized by a con. The gifted comedian has to start playing against type in big-screen comedies if she wants to be remembered as anything other than that heavy-set woman who crapped herself in a Kristen Wiig comedy.