(Originally posted at CineVue)
Collaborating once again after the commercial success of the relatively dreadful Horrible Bosses (2011), Jason Bateman and director Seth Gordon return to the big screen with Identity Thief (2013), a film which is as thin on plot as it is on remotely humorous gags. Also starring Melissa McCarthy – whose ballsy comedic shtick was already spread thin with her breakthrough role in Bridesmaids (2011) – the film is a crime comedy that riffs on such established, definitive buddy moves as John Hughes’ Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) but doesn’t have the emotional complexity or funny bone to bring anything new to an already crowded table.
Bateman plays Sandy Bigelow Patterson, an ordinary American everyman who excels at his job in accountancy despite, frustratingly, being continually passed over for promotion. Outside of work, Sandy is a devoted husband to wife Trish (Amanda Peet) and father to two children with a third on the way. His serene life and financial diligence are ruptured, however, when he learns he is the victim of identity fraud at the hands of Diana (McCarthy), a lonely misfit who feeds her emptiness with an extravagant lifestyle funded by credit card fraud.
Learning of her whereabouts, Sandy travels across the country to Florida to confront and bring his economic doppelganger to justice, only to discover that Diana’s lavish life as a con artist is swiftly catching up to her. She is the target of several criminals and a ruthless bounty hunter (Robert Patrick), and Sandy has to decide whether or not to help the orchestrator of his misfortune whilst attempting to clear his chequered name in the process. A hectic game of cross-country cat-and-mouse ensues, with Sandy and Diana working together to ensure their vastly dissimilar lives remain intact.
With jokes that span, presciently, from McCarthy’s weight to Sandy’s asexual name (“It’s not a female name, it’s unisex!”, he reminds people), Identity Thief excels at packing in as much tawdry and humourless jokes into its overlong runtime as possible, playing on – but rarely augmenting – its two leading star’s comedic abilities. As Diana, a frenzied oddball with an impressive bouffant and penchant for striking men in the throat, McCarthy does little to challenge the image of the potty-mouthed, sex-mad characters to which she is now accustomed, however much sentiment she brings to the trite, inevitable softening of her unlikable character. Bateman, similarly, brings little to a very straight role, the type of which he has become synonymous with sleepwalking through, and far removed from the instant comedic likability of his role in the revived Arrested Development.
In attempting to offer a reversed version of the odd-couple road-trip movie, screenwriter Craig Mazin’s finished product fails to live up to the nifty technique of switching the gender roles, which is something that should have warranted some interesting foundations for comedy whilst signalling a new direction for the subgenre. However, coupled with Gordon’s insipid directorial approach, Identity Thief’s frequent dips into noxious violence and out of place action thriller territories ultimately render it a disastrous comedy with a flummoxed identity crisis.