Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) works in middle management in a financial services company. He and his wife Trish (Amanda Peet) have two young daughters with another baby on the way and they are just getting by financially. Sandy is very good at his job but the economy has prevented his company from handing out annual bonuses as they did in the past. Sandy is called into the office of his boss Harold Cornish (Jon Favreau) where he’s told to prepare bonus checks for a select few of the company’s upper management, including Cornish. Sandy is disappointed that he and the rest of the staff won’t be rewarded for their hard work. Meanwhile, in Winter Park, Florida, Diana (Melissa McCarthy) places a phone call to Sandy, pretending to be from his credit card company. She says there has been some suspicious activity on his card and offers to sign him up to a free credit protection service. It’s all a ruse to get his full name, birthdate and Social Security number so she can steal his identity and create several fake credit cards in his name. She begins a spending spree with lavish purchases and buying drinks for everyone in a bar. At the bar, she gets drunk and punches the bartender, leading to her arrest. When she fails to show up for her court date, an arrest warrant is issued. Unfortunately, the real Sandy Patterson is arrested near his home in Denver, Colorado. Professing his innocence, the officer working his case, Detective Reilly (Morris Chestnut), contacts the Winter Park police and gets a mug shot of their fugitive sent to his office. Seeing Diana, who is using Sandy Patterson’s stolen identity, he lets the real Sandy go. Sandy wants to know if the police will be looking for Diana to clear his name and his now maxed out credit cards and is told that will be up to the Winter Park police. The only way Denver police can help is if she is in Denver. This gives Sandy the idea to fly to Florida, find Diana, get her on a plane and bring her to Denver to admit her crimes and clear his name. While it sounds like a perfect plan, Sandy doesn’t know Diana is being searched for by drug dealers Julian and Marisol (Tip “TI” Harris and Genesis Rodriguez) to whom she sold maxed out bogus credit cards, and a debt skip tracer (Robert Patrick), meaning his simple plan will get very complicated before it’s done.
“Identity Thief” is a silly movie. The plot is ridiculous and predictable, the characters are all one dimensional, the likelihood of anything even remotely like the events in the film actually happening are microscopically small. Despite all the things working against it, the movie is very entertaining and very funny.
The main things working in the film’s favor are the stars that bring life to a couple of very lifeless characters. Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy shouldn’t be a winning on-screen duo but they are. The pair, who for most of the film works against each other, works together in a comic symphony that coaxes laughs out of a weak script. I have a suspicion most of the funniest scenes were largely improvised by McCarthy. The elaborate stories she concocts of the people she’s pretending to be are hilarious. They run the gamut from her being a successful surgeons’ wife to being the long-suffering spouse of a fireman who, because of an accident, is shredded “down there.” When they begin their journey, Bateman is often the source of her misery in her fantastic tales. The point of all her stories is to either build herself up in the eyes of others or to elicit sympathy and perhaps free items from her targets. She’s so good, it usually works.
In being her foil, Bateman is the perfect combination of slow burn and sudden explosion. Bateman’s Sandy underestimates the determination and imagination of Diana. He usually pays for it with either a punch in the throat or her nearly escaping and destroying his plans. Bateman begins the film as a rather straight-laced stuffed shirt but is metamorphosed into a more law-abiding version of Diana as they cross the country by car and are forced to employ more of her methods to continue their journey. Bateman has such an everyman quality about his face and demeanor, the audience automatically is empathetic for his situation. We want him to get his life back but wish good things for Diana as we get to know her better.
She’s a sad, lonely woman who is trying to fill the void in her life with the items she buys with other people’s credit. Since the satisfaction of her purchases is fleeting, she must buy more stuff and must steal more identities in order to keep feeling good about herself. We are told the source of her sadness late in the film. It is an obvious attempt to manipulate the audience into feeling sorry for Diana…and it works. It is only because McCarthy is a surprisingly good actress that we have any sympathy for this con artist at all. Her range of emotions in the film is shockingly broad. There are times where she is infuriating and times when she breaks your heart. To me, this was unexpected considering her work in films like “Bridesmaids” and “This is 40.” The Academy Award nomination for “Bridesmaids” may be only the first of many if McCarthy can find more quality material outside of comedy. She could be a brilliant dramatic actress if given the chance.
The supporting players in “Identity Thief” are largely window dressing to amplify our feeling of sympathy and support for Sandy and Diana. The exception is the skip tracer played by Robert Patrick. The character is a combination of bounty hunter and mob enforcer who is willing to use any means he sees fit to capture his prey. Patrick plays the part like a man who is on the edge of becoming a serial killer. The look in his eyes as he’s questioning people while tracking Diana suggests a great deal more threat than his words. The character is over the top and another reason why “Identity Thief” works.
“Identity Thief” is rated R for sexual content and language. There is a sex scene between McCarthy and Eric Stonestreet who plays a guy Diana picks up in a bar. While there is no nudity, there is a great deal of language and suggestive movements. Afterward, we also get a brief look at Stonestreet’s bare backside. There is also some violence though it is largely comic in nature. Foul language is common throughout the film.
Most film critics have slammed “Identity Thief” for being lazy and crude. I cannot disagree with that assessment. The film is a collection of scenes that are largely made up of the simplest types of comedy: Physical and dirty. Despite all its shortcomings, “Identity Thief” is an entertaining film thanks largely to the incredible talent of Melissa McCarthy. In the hands of a less talented, less brave actor, this review would have been very different.
“Identity Thief” gets five guitars out of five.
Five new films open this Valentine’s week and are looking for some love from you. Which film I see is up to you. Vote on the next movie I review.
Beautiful Creatures—A supernatural love story set in the South which tells the tale of two star-crossed lovers: Ethan, a young man longing to escape his small town, and Lena, a mysterious new girl. Together, they uncover dark secrets about their respective families, their history and their town.
Escape from Planet Earth—On the planet Baab, admired astronaut Scorch Supernova is a national hero to the blue alien population. Scorch pulls off astonishing feats with the quiet aid of his nerdy, by-the-rules brother, Gary, head of mission control at BASA. Now a rescue mission on a dangerous planet could mean the end for both brothers.
A Good Day to Die Hard—New York City cop John McClane arrives in Moscow to track down his estranged son, Jack. McClane thinks his son is a criminal, so it comes as a shock when he learns that Jack is actually working undercover to protect a Russian government whistleblower.
Masquerade—Though it places his own life in danger, a look-alike commoner (Lee Byung-Hun) secretly takes the place of a poisoned king to save his country from falling into chaos.
Safe Haven—When a mysterious young woman arrives in a small North Carolina town, her reluctance to join the tight knit community raises questions about her past. Slowly, she begins putting down roots, but dark secrets intrude on her new life with such terror that she is forced to rediscover the meaning of sacrifice and rely on the power of love.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently in theatres.
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.