With identity theft being the complicated legal issue that it is, it is surprising that it has taken this long to make a comedy about it. Sadly, the execution of this film is a total disappointment. As for why Seth Gordon’s Identity Thief falls short, there are a lot of reasons; almost as many reasons as to why this movie almost works.
The film centers around Sandy Patterson, played by Jason Bateman. He is a gainfully employed accountant with a loving wife, played by Amanda Peet, two children, and a nice apartment. However, he falls for a rather contrived scheme when Diana, played by Melissa McCarthy, is able to get him to give her all of his personal information, including birthday, social security number and anything else needed to completely steal his identity.
As a result, she runs up a huge credit card debt that lands him in hot water with his job. The police are powerless to do anything about it because she committed the crime in Florida and he lives in Colorado – apparently extradition means nothing in this universe, or the fact that it’s a federal crime and hence wouldn’t need state level police. No matter, it is completely forgotten as Sandy decides to clear his name by orchestrating a sting operation. He will go to Florida, get Diana, and bring her to justice himself. What ensues is a convoluted and complicated story that tries to do too much without actually flushing anything out.
Diana is being pursued by drug dealers for failing to deliver any of the credit cards she has stolen, as well as a bounty hunter intent on bringing her in for the $50,000 reward – although we are never told who exactly told him about the bounty or who will be paying him. The story is on a strict timeline as there is only a week until Sandy will lose his job. All the while, they have to avoid the police in every state that they cross so that she will be available to help clear his name. And yet, despite those problems, there is almost no tension from any of these sources.
Case in point- Sandy and Diana only run into the drug dealers in the beginning and then they don’t run into them again throughout the film. In addition to a weak source of conflict, the film does little to develop any of the secondary characters. Finally, other than Diana herself, it tries to do too much as a comedy. As a road trip comedy, there are a lot of opportunities for witty banter or chase scenes that are avoided. But instead, a lot of the comedy comes in the form of slapstick, and although done well by both Bateman and McCarthy (as well as their respective stunt people), feels completely unsatisfying and underwhelming.
Despite the obvious contrivance of their escapades, the acting in this movie is rather well done. McCarthy especially does a great job as her character has to walk a very fine line between a despicable, diabolical scoundrel and a sympathetic, misunderstood thief who’s heart is in the right place. Although it is difficult to be completely on her side because of the nature of her character, it is also impossible to hate her completely.
There is a lot of potential in this movie to be great, and yet it is unfulfilling in virtually every facet. The shenanigans that they go through are too contrived to make it a successful road trip comedy. The banter that they go through is too spiteful and hate-filled to be a buddy comedy. The people trying to apprehend them are too ineffectual to be considered a real threat. And the main core of the plot – he has to bring her back to Colorado himself – is completely devoid of any logic or legal basis in reality.
Although it is not the worst comedy to be released, there are a lot better out there both for slapstick or road trip buddy films. One and a half stars out of four.