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‘Identity Thief’ Review

Identity Thief review
Universal Pictures

Funny is, of course, subjective. I find Woody Allen funny but there are plenty of people who find him about as amusing as being slowly asphyxiated in plastic bags from CVS. Still, I’ll hazard to guess that there is no one who will find Melissa McCarthy obnoxiously singing along to Kelis’ not-at-all-current “Milkshake” funny. Especially when ‘Identity Thief’ – a new “comedy” with McCarthy and Jason Bateman – goes to quite successful lengths to make you HATE her character. And you just might wind up hating this movie too.

‘Identity Thief’ opens with Bateman, back again as the white collar everyman from ‘Extract’ and ‘Horrible Bosses,’ foolishly falling for a scam artists’ request for personal data. Far from his mahogany-decorated financial services firm in Denver there’s McCarthy, a gluttonous tornado of selfish, infantile consumption and life-wrecking greed. Costumed and coiffed to resemble the talking rectum from the animated sequences of ‘Pink Floyd: The Wall,’ McCarthy is so odious that she blasts past any semblance of “annoying, but funny.” John Candy she’s not; she’s so repugnant that you’ll actually cheer when she is smacked in the face with a guitar.

So…clearly McCarthy and director Seth Gordon should be applauded for a job well done? Strangely, no. In following the asinine, illiterate script from Craig Mazin (‘The Hangover: Part II’) we are quickly, and unoriginally, asked to accept these adventures as winning life lessons and that through the magic of third act hugs and mashed potatoes on the kisser, everyone will forgive and forget.

It has been quite some time that I’ve been asked to swallow so large a load of horses— and call it fun.

The foolishness of ‘Identity Thief’ kicks off from the start. Due to state laws Bateman is powerless to have charges pressed against McCarthy. (He knows what she looks like and the area she’s in.) So far this sounds plausible. It is never stated if the credit card companies will give him his dough or credit rating back, but to force a ticking clock, his new boss (John Cho) says he’s fired unless he can *prove* he’s innocent. And he’s got one week to do it!

Okay, let’s back this up, because it is so stupid it needs to be explained further. In the film’s first act Cho is a co-worker at Bateman’s Denver firm, but he recruits him for a startup company. Clearly the two men respect one another. Despite the police saying that the warrant out for Bateman and all the debt collectors banging on the door are a mistake, Cho still wants to hang Bateman out to dry. But instead of Bateman, you know, hiring a lawyer he decides to go on a ridiculous wild goose chase to Florida to find McCarthy, KIDNAP HER, then bring her back in the hopes that she’ll confess. Cho hears this convoluted, ridiculous plan and says “okay.” You’ll be rolling your eyes so much that you may miss that the COPS say “okay,” too.

To make matters worse, this cockamamie venture isn’t just unfunny (In addition to “Milkshake” there are more gross-out sex jokes than you can shake a plate of baby back ribs at) it gets even stupider, with the Latin mafia and Robert Patrick as a redneck bounty hunter on their tail. Mazin’s decision to “raise the stakes” in lieu of writing any actual jokes deserves points, I suppose, for sheer chutzpah.

‘Identity Thief’ is a painful and lengthy sit. There are one or two smiles (reaction shots from Bateman, mostly) but the fundamental flaws resonate throughout the whole film. We’re asked to believe that Bateman’s pregnant wife would let the person who almost wrecked her life into her home and to play dress-up with her kids. No.

Listen, I like a broad, screwball comedy about criminals. From Lubitsch’s ‘Trouble in Paradise’ to ‘Ruthless People’ to, heck, even ‘Identity Thief’ director Seth Gordon’s last film, ‘Horrible Bosses,’ I can have a good time with a sharp script. ‘Identity Thief’ is simply too half-assed to warrant anything but scorn. It goes all-in on hoping audiences will just be blown away by a fat woman acting like a monster. McCarthy (who deserves so much better) is asked to play a sharp hacker worthy of the ‘Ocean’s 11′ gang, yet also a complete dunce, unaware of how she is perceived in the world. Then, just before the end, a crying monologue is supposed to make you love her. Again, no. Furthermore, the “adventures” on the road seem almost intentionally generic. A snake in the woods? A makeover? I’m surprised there wasn’t a funny hat montage.

During one of the bits in the aforementioned Woody Allen’s ‘Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)’ an exaggerated, spasmodic version of the Allen persona is playing a court jester in a medieval castle. His intentionally idiotic standup routine is dismissed by the King and he’s reproached with two booming words: “Not funny!” It was this voice I heard in my head over and over as I watched ‘Identity Thief.’

My advice is to avoid ‘Identity Thief,’ which could also bill itself as ‘Time and Money Thief.’ And you’ll have no one to press charges against other than yourself.‘Identity Thief’ opens in theaters on February 8.

Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.

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