Universal // 2013 // 121 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // May 27th, 2013
He has one week to hunt her down before his world implodes.
"Friends don't steal friends' identities, do they?"
Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman, Arrested Development) is an ordinary accountant with an ordinary life. He's married, has two kids and has just landed a lucrative new job with a brand-new firm in Denver. Alas, his entire world begins crumbling when he discovers that his identity has been stolen. As a result, his credit is ruined, his job is in jeopardy and he's even being investigated by police. Desperate to fix things, Sandy determines to travel to Florida to track down the woman (Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids) who has ruined his life. Finding her proves surprisingly easy, and he's even able to convince her to come back Denver and help straighten things out. Little does Sandy realize just how miserable and obstacle-filled this long road trip is going to be.
The road movie is a pretty reliable format. Take a couple of people with strikingly different personalities, give them a mutual destination, force them to encounter also sorts of supporting characters with colorful personalities along the way and you've got yourself a movie! The approach can work for all sorts of genres (consider Thelma and Louise, Rain Man, Easy Rider), but most frequently, it's used as the backdrop for a comedy. For my money, the most satisfying road comedy ever made is John Landis' great Planes, Trains and Automobiles, a movie that hits the sweet spot between hilarity, honesty and tenderness. The movie has been imitated on many occasions since its release, but it's hard to get the formula just right. Identity Thief is the latest effort to riff on the beloved Landis flick, but like Todd Phillips' Due Date, it's a sporadically funny flick that leans too heavily on the charm of its co-stars.
Let's start by focusing on the positive: pairing Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy was a good idea -- even an obvious one. McCarthy's star has skyrocketed since the release of Bridesmaids, and rightly so: her gift for improv is considerable and her loud, explosive brand of humor also manages to be pretty distinctive. She absolutes deserves an opportunity to tear up the scenery in a lead role, and Identity Thief is the first movie to give her that chance. Alternately, Jason Bateman has firmly established himself as an impeccable straight man, even if his cinematic track record is pretty shaky. Nobody does a comically despairing reaction shot quite like Bateman, and he's the ideal candidate to look on in horror and dismay while McCarthy goes wild. It's a solid match-up, and there's definitely a good bit of comic chemistry between the two that makes the movie watchable even during its lousiest moments. The film is generally at its strongest when the two are just riffing with each other, and I'd be lying if I said that both actors didn't provide some laugh-out-loud moments.
Unfortunately, the film itself is too bloated and shapeless. Director Seth Gordon's previous film was the riotous Horrible Bosses, a similarly noisy, crude comedy that worked due to a strong cast, a fun premise and a willingness to permit both darkness and whimsy to exist side-by-side. The laughs don't come as frequently in Identity Thief, and that's partially due to the fact that the jokes tend to be lazier this time around. A lengthy comic setpiece involving an obese cowboy played by Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family) is primarily built upon the premise that overweight people having noisy sex is hilarious. Along similar lines, there are too many scenes that giggle about the fact that McCarthy is a sexually-charged character despite the fact that she isn't a conventionally sexy person. And yeah, there are plenty of fat jokes, too.
The eclectic supporting cast tends to be hit-and-miss, as actors drop in and try to contribute two or three scenes of goofy fun. Jon Favreau (The Breakup) is amusing as Bateman's horrible boss, and Robert Patrick (Terminator 2: Judgment Day) actually brings some spooky gravitas to the bounty hunter trailing our two protagonists, but a lot of the other turns are unimpressive. T.I. (ATL) and Genesis Rodriguez (The Last Stand) are just dull as a pair of gangsters who get a substantial amount of screen time, Ellie Kemper (The Office) is playing a bland stereotype, and John Cho (Star Trek), Amanda Peet (The Whole Nine Yards) and Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad) are wasted in throwaway roles. Too often, Identity Thief feels like a film that expects the actors to bring their own laughs to a flimsy structure (I can't say definitively whether that's actually true, but it feels that way regardless).
In the final act, the film takes a turn for the sentimental, as these things so often do. Unfortunately, the movie isn't really substantial enough to permit us to form any sort of emotional connection to the characters, to the closing scenes of sweetness feel more like a film going through the motions than like some sort of long-awaited emotional catharsis.
Identity Thief (Blu-ray) has received a solid 1080p/2.35:1 transfer. For the most part, we're dealing with a fairly standard modern comedy palette: bright colors all over the place. The film isn't remarkable on a visual level, but detail is strong throughout, blacks are deep and some light grain is present throughout. It's about what you'd expect for a brand-new film. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is a bit more active than the average comedy during some of the film's action-packed sequence (a car chase in particular proves fairly immersive -- though I may be biased, as I was delighted to discover that the scene was shot on some Georgia roads I drive rather frequently), but we're still not dealing with anything too complicated. It's clean and clear. Supplements include the theatrical cut of the film (the unrated cut -- which is the one I viewed for the purposes of this review -- runs about eight minutes longer), some brief featurettes ("Scene Stealing," "The Making of Identity Thief" and "The Skiptracer's Van Tour"), some alternate takes and a 48-second gag reel. You also get a DVD copy and digital copy.
Identity Thief contains some funny moments, but it fails to reach its full potential too frequently. It's worth a look if Bateman and/or McCarthy generally make you laugh, as they're both in fine form, but Gordon is capable of better.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 121 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Version
* Alternate Takes
* Gag Reel
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy