"Identity Thief," the new road trip comedy starring Jason Bateman and current comedy it-girl Melissa McCarthy, is an ugly movie. Itâ€™s not ugly in terms of the visuals, though director Seth Gordon (of the far superior "Horrible Bosses" and "The King of Kong") doesnâ€™t exactly bring much originality or energy to the project.
No, "Identity Thief" is ugly because of the way it treats its characters, its cast and, by the filmâ€™s end, its audience. When itâ€™s not ugly, itâ€™s frustrating, and when itâ€™s not frustrating, itâ€™s merely dull. "Identity Thief" is a lot of things; funny is unfortunately not one of them.
Bateman stars as Sandy Patterson, an unappreciated cubicle worker so similar to every Jason Bateman film character that I wonder if he bothers changing clothes between shoots. He does have a horrible boss, briefly played by Jon Favreau, but heâ€™s got bigger problems than bonus-swindling CEOs. It turns out his identity has been stolen by Diana (McCarthy), a desperate, hoarding con artist who has burned out her credit cards, picked up a drunken disorderly and made trouble with a local gangster â€“ all under Sandyâ€™s name.
Since the police (led by Morris Chestnut) are incredibly inept â€“ Iâ€™m no law expert, but the policeâ€™s hands seem so tied, Iâ€™m thinking of taking up the con â€“ and his new job is at risk, Sandy flies down to Florida to snag Diana and bring her back to Denver to admit to her crimes, clearing his name in the process. Of course, the task is much harder than expected, and after some vehicular mayhem and a seemingly endless number of throat punches, the two are forced to drive across the nation together with gangsters (Genesis Rodriguez and rapper T.I.) and a grizzled bounty hunter (Robert Patrick) in hot pursuit.
Despite the numerous zany pit stops â€“ one in a honky-tonk bar where Diana finds a rowdy Texan (Eric Stonestreet, who does better work on "Modern Family") to annoy Sandy, another in a forest where Sandy has an unfortunate run-in with some snakes â€“ thereâ€™s not much life to "Identity Thief." When itâ€™s not frustratingly contrived, the plot is tired, predictable and meandering.
The gangster subplot doesnâ€™t help, adding unnecessary drama, ugly violence and very few laughs â€“ save for when Patrick shows up, looking like he was just dragged off his couch.
As with any road trip comedy made post-1987, the goal is to duplicate "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." And much like numerous other failed clones, "Identity Thief" replaces the humanity that made John Hughesâ€™ film a classic with weak cartoonish humor, often repeated to diminishing returns â€“ it has more throat punches than The Rockâ€™s entire filmography â€“ and hectic set pieces filled with desperate, uninspired slapstick. Thatâ€™s if youâ€™re lucky; large portions of writer Craig Mazinâ€™s script seem to forget jokes altogether.
The humanity is most sorely lacking in the characters, namely McCarthyâ€™s cruelly constructed Diana. Itâ€™s an ugly cartoon character, not because of her weight or her fashion sense (though Gordon and Mazin milk these things for as much mean-spirited humor as they can), but because sheâ€™s purposefully destructive to others, and the script forces her to puke and behave as unpleasantly as she can.
But, in one of my least favorite emotional ploys, "Identity Thief" tries to humanize its cruel, destructive creation in the hopes of teaching everyone a lesson and showing that maybe the main character just needed to loosen up a bit. Itâ€™s been done before in movies, and it almost always comes off as disingenuous, mainly because of comedy writersâ€™ desire to go bigger and ruder with the funny character. Movies like "Dinner for Schmucks," "Due Date" and now "Identity Thief" amp up their absurdity and reckless behavior to the point that their humanity is left in the dust, and any attempts to salvage the characters feel unearned.
The filmmakers want to have it both ways. They urge the crowd to laugh at Diana and cheer when Bateman hits his rude, lewd travelling partner, then try to make the audience feel bad and turn her into a real person.
It just canâ€™t be done, but give the overqualified cast props for trying, especially McCarthy. Sheâ€™s impressively dedicated to the role, and when "Identity Thief" gives her human moments â€“ a tear-filled dinner speech is the big scene, but sometimes, itâ€™s just a look that reveals the years of hurt and loneliness leading her to crime â€“ theyâ€™re almost touching. Itâ€™s an occasionally tender performance in a movie that doesnâ€™t deserve it.
1 comment about this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published May 2, 2016
For years, rumors of an IKEA coming to Wisconsin have just been a fact of Cream City life. According to a BizTimes report, however, those rumors might actually - finally - be turning into reality with an Oak Creek location.
Published April 27, 2016
The Milwaukee Film Festival may still be months away, but that doesn't mean awesome things aren't happening at Milwaukee Film. Take, for instance, yesterday, when news broke that the organization was chosen to receive a $10,000 grant from AMPAS.
Published April 25, 2016
We're still all broken up about the sudden, shocking death of Prince. Thankfully, several Milwaukee venues are offering opportunities to continue the Prince mourning process this week and pay tribute to his artistic genius in both music and movies.
Published April 24, 2016
Mere hours after the news broke about Prince's shocking, sudden death, I chatted with Frightened Rabbit drummer Grant Hutchison about our favorite Prince memories and music moments, as well as the making of the Scottish indie rock band's new album.
Published April 22, 2016
The weather is getting nicer. Baseball has begun. Yep, summer is here, and you know what that means: Time to head indoors to a dark theater to watch movies! Here's what to expect from this year's summer slate.
Published April 21, 2016
David Bowie. Merle Haggard. George Martin. Phife. Glenn Frey - 2016 has been exceptionally cruel and brutal in taking away some of our most universally beloved musicians and cultural icons. This morning, it unfortunately added to its list: Prince.
Published April 20, 2016
Gary Tanin has a special friendship with David Bowie's longtime producer Tony Visconti, one started on a CompuServe chat room back in 1993. Two decades later, their friendship has endured - and led to Tanin producing the debut record for singer-songwriter Jack Spann.
Published April 19, 2016
It's coming up on almost a year since WTMJ-TV anchor Mike Jacobs retired, and a replacement has still yet to be named. There are Internet rumors and rumblings, however, that the spot may soon be officially filled - and by a familiar face. And now we know.
Published April 19, 2016
The St. Louis Cardinals are the worst. Thankfully, the merry pranksters of sports journalism at Deadspin agree and, thus far, have decided to dedicate a post about every single Cardinal loss this season. Schadenfreude away, rest of the MLB!
Published April 18, 2016
Jim Gaffigan is no stranger to Milwaukee, and based on a video posted to the comic's Instagram earlier today, it would seem that Milwaukee love has rubbed off a bit on his daughter.