February 14, 2013

A Case of Mistaken Identity

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Melissa McCarthy is one of the most gut-wrenchingly hilarious comedic talents in the world. Jason Bateman has the ability to take the role of “the straight man” to the next level with his subtle eyebrow raises and judgmental head tilts. Together, they should be an unstoppable pair. Yet Identity Thief, the duo’s comedic debut,  manages to miss the mark.

Bateman, known best for his role as Michael Bluth on Arrested Development, assumes the role of Sandy Bigelow Patterson. Basically, he plays exactly the same character he always does: the quintessential good guy taken advantage of by his superiors while he tries to keep his head down and do the right thing.

McCarthy plays the woman who steals Sandy’s identity. An alumni of the Groundlings Improv Theatre in Los Angeles, where talents like Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph got their starts, McCarthy rocketed to fame after her role as Megan in Bridesmaids. Always hilarious, her performance did not disappoint despite the film’s manifold flaws.

Identity Thief opens with the phone call during which Sandy naively gives away his personal information to a woman he believes to be calling from his credit card company. We then see a scene of Sandy having a birthday celebration with his wife, played by Amanda Peet, and their two young daughters (random aside: the younger girl previously appeared in We Bought a Zoo and is really adorable.)

Next, we cut to McCarthy’s character sitting alone at a bar using Sandy’s stolen credit card to buy drinks for everyone present. Early on, the film establishes the foundations for what later becomes a major plot point: McCarthy’s character is lonely and attempts to use money to buy friends and happiness.

Unsurprisingly, this dubious strategy does not work; instead, she is arrested for public intoxication and assault. She continues to spend Sandy’s hard earned money and act recklessly in his name until Sandy himself is arrested across the country for this woman’s wrongdoing.

Finding the justice system unhelpful and frustrating, Sandy realizes the only way he can save his job and his family is to find the thief and bring her to the police himself. The first part of this plan works: he finds the “hobbit” who stole his identity, but is naturally unsuccessful at getting her to agree to return with him. It is only when even badder criminals come chasing after McCarthy, calling her Julia, that she takes advantage of the free ride Sandy is offering her, and tells Sandy her real name is Diana. What ensues in the next third of the movie is a goofy and at times hilarious road trip in which McCarthy shows off her considerable skill.

However, the film takes a turn for the worse in its last act. One can understand why the writers felt the need to humanize Diana, but the emotional appeal to audiences felt out of place in a movie one expects to be composed of pure laughs. Though McCarthy is capable of dramatic acting as well as comedic and her tears seemed authentic and appropriate in the emotional portions of the film, nothing about the life she describes is the least bit amusing. The film then becomes less a buddy-comedy, and more a tale about the consequences of a terrible foster-care system.

This is not to say that Identity Thief did not have its moments. Bateman and McCarthy have wonderful chemistry and there were a couple of scenes that are unquestionably funny. In addition to the two leads, appearances by Jon Favreau, Eric Stonestreet and McCarthy’s real life husband, Ben Falcone (who played Air Marshall John in Bridesmaids), added considerably to the humor. Ultimately, though, Identity Thief is uncomfortable to watch, both due to the lack of consistency in genre and the complete lack of balance between Bateman’s and McCarthy’s characters.

My advice would be to wait for this one to come to your TV when you are unemployed and home for the summer. You can enjoy the funny bits (many of which are in the trailer for the movie) and stop watching when it becomes a melodrama.

I feel bad for Bateman and McCarthy because they are both wonderful actors who did all they could. But there is no denying that they were let down by a script that did not live up to its potential.

Original Author: Julia Moser