Movie review: No clean getaway for 'Identity Thief'

This undated publicity image released by Universal Pictures shows Jason Bateman, right, and Melissa McCarthy in a scene from, "Identity Thief." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures)

“Identity Thief”


Universal Pictures

1 hour, 52 minutes

There’s no question that we live in a time of excess. Just look at fast food. Portion sizes are through the roof and the sloppier the mess you can make while eating, the better. And what is the fast food equivalent of cinema? The lazy studio situation comedy, i.e., this week’s overstuffed, scattershot yukfest, “Identity Thief.”

“Identity Thief” stars Jason Bateman, an affable actor who never seems to get a good role, as Sandy Patterson. Sandy, unluckily in possession of a unisex name, becomes the unwitting victim of a professional scam artist who may or may not go by the name of Diana, but definitely goes by the name of Sandy, especially while signing the outrageous credit card receipts. Diana/Sandy is played by Melissa McCarthy, a gifted comedienne and Oscar nominee, who is well on her way to becoming typecast as the foulmouthed goof, the Chris Farley of actresses. With all due respect to the late Mr. Farley, there’s a lot farther Melissa McCarthy could go.

In “Thief,” her timing and Bateman’s affability are all that keep the film from being completely unwatchable, though they struggle with making it even mildly entertaining. By the time the real Sandy discovers that his identity has been stolen and that a Florida grifter has racked up thousands in debt in his name, all hell has broken loose. His job as a financier is on the line due to abysmal credit scores, and a warrant has been issued due to shady associations with Florida drug dealers. Naturally, there’s nothing the police can do to help, so the only possible solution is for Sandy to fly to Florida and force Sandy/Diana to come back to his home state of Colorado and confess the whole story. Of course.

There’s so little to like in this film, and it’s a shame because I have been rooting for Jason Bateman for what feels like his entire career. Looking at his filmography empirically, there’s no reason this guy should still be acting. Most of his work has been walk-ons in various TV series, punctuated with bad movies, ala “Teen Wolf Too.” The movies have gotten higher profile in recent years, but little better, with sex comedies like “The Change-Up” and misfires like “Horrible Bosses.” Yes, there have been a few highlights, but they were basically cameos, i.e. Bateman’s turn as a paranoid gay wheeler-dealer in “State of Play,” or as George Clooney’s boss in “Up in the Air.”

What gives me hope, and what probably gives Bateman himself hope, is the one real shining jewel in his resumé: “Arrested Development.” This brilliant comedy aired only two-and-a-half seasons on Fox before being unceremoniously dumped, but is widely regarded as one of the funniest shows of the last decade, and certainly the best work Jason Bateman has done. There is a new season of the show in the works on Netflix, of all places, and the potential for a big-screen outing, so I guess we won’t count him out just yet.

Melissa McCarthy, on the other hand, is pretty much an unknown commodity, but she was funny in “Bridesmaids,” and could have been funny in “Identity Thief,” if the screenplay hadn’t been so juvenile and, frankly, terrible.

The main problem in “Identity Thief” is that the writers couldn’t seem to decide what kind of movie they wanted to make. Was this a raunchy comedy, a sweet comedy, an action comedy, a slap-stick comedy? Why not all at once? Sometimes in the same five-minute scene! It felt as though the filmmakers had included every possible comedic motif, with the idea that the movie could be edited to a consistent tone in post.

But it wasn’t. Case in point: There is a scene in which Diana seduces a loud-mouthed cowboy named Big Chuck, who I was aghast to realize was played by Eric Stonestreet, best known for playing the lovable Cam on “Modern Family.” The motivation for this motel bar seduction is to scam Big Chuck. Also, to shame Sandy, who is forcing Diana back to Colorado. Also, to fill the emptiness in Diana’s heart which has been filled, to this point, only with selfishness and anger.

The scene progresses through raunchy comedic foreplay at which point Chuck breaks down crying because he hasn’t been with a woman since his sainted wife passed. Diana looks at herself in the mirror, and realizes that she can’t go through with it. Then comes the protracted raunchy comedic sex scene. This movie goes through mood changes so fast it was giving me whiplash.

Of course, to suggest that the film couldn’t maintain a consistent tone sounds almost highbrow and says nothing about the idiotic, hackneyed subplot about crazy bounty hunters and drug dealers who are also in pursuit of our heroes. They could have trimmed a half-hour off this bloated mess right there.

“Identity Thief” is one of those comedies that will probably be popular due to the fact that it’s aiming at so wide a base. But I doubt even the least discerning viewers will love it, and by this time next year it will just be another forgotten Jason Bateman comedy; one that didn’t set the world on fire, but gave the studio enough money to hire him once again, for something equally inane no doubt. I’m afraid only Jason Bateman can save Jason Bateman, so let’s hope “Arrested Development” comes out soon.

Grade: D

“Identity Thief” is rated R for crude and explicit humor, sexual situations, violence, and language.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.