The main reason most people will go to the new movie Identity Thief is Melissa McCarthy. While that’s not a bad reason, it’s not enough to ignore the movie’s considerable flaws.
Written by Craig Mazin, whose previous credits include two Scary Movies and the second and upcoming third Hangover, and directed by Horrible Bosses’ Seth Gordon, Identity Thief is a rambling, not entirely coherent combination of raunchy gags, slapstick and occasional tugs at the heartstrings. It would fit in a genre archive next to the likes of Tommy Boy, Date Night or Planes, Trains and Automobiles, though it’s not quite on the level of any of those movies.
It is marginally efficient, though, getting McCarthy onscreen and on the loose very quickly. She plays a Florida woman of various names — the film finally settles on Diana — who is a somewhat adept identity thief. When she takes over the identity of Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman), he soon finds that not only is he facing a pile of unexpected bills but he is the object of a criminal investigation.
The investigation in particular threatens his new job, but Sandy cannot clear his name unless he finds Diana in Florida and takes her back to his office in Denver to confess. Finding her is not that difficult. Getting her to Denver is.
Not only is Diana a tough and cagey customer, her misdeeds have made her the target of a skip tracer (Cleveland’s Robert Patrick) and a couple of criminals (Genesis Rodriguez and T.I.).
Car chases, accidents and various mayhem result, with side trips into long comedic pieces. Some, including a scene in a restaurant where Diana deftly turns a waitress against Sandy, work rather well. Others, including a very long encounter between Diana and a would-be suitor named Big Chuck (Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet), are not as successful. Indeed, the movie squanders a lot of supporting talent, never making much of Patrick or Jon Favreau (as Sandy’s nasty boss) or The Office’s Ellie Kemper (as the waitress) or Jonathan Banks (as a crime boss). Bateman, for that matter, is too much of a stiff. And the plot is beyond flimsy, barely enough to hang all the gags on.
So why see it? Well, the broad humor can make you laugh, if not always as much or as hard as the movie believes you should. And there’s McCarthy.
After a supporting role on Gilmore Girls established her basic likeability, she proved what a formidable comedic actress she was in Bridesmaids. The CBS sitcom Mike & Molly was a bit of a step back, as she is often forced to be the sensible one in the middle of goofy folks (although this week’s episode at least briefly let her channel her inner Lucille Ball). But Identity Thief sets her loose, especially when Diana begins to construct a pyramid of ever more elaborate lies, or when she proves (verbally and physically) that she’s a lot tougher than her male counterpart. And she can do all sorts of terrible things because audiences like her; no one is asking how many lives besides Sandy’s she has ruined. Indeed, when the moment inevitably comes when Diana must prove she is not so bad, the audience has anticipated it; they want her to have a good heart.
But there’s still one movie mountain left for McCarthy to climb, and its Hollywood that has made the peak. While Bridesmaids and Identity Thief have provided her vigorously sexual characters, neither is particularly erotic. Those movies ultimately treat her desires as comedic, as if a plus-sized woman can’t arouse moviegoers as much as her onscreen partners.
I wouldn’t mind, then, if Identity Thief made tons of money — if that adds to McCarthy’s Hollywood clout enough to let her play ardor for more than laughs.
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.