Movie Review: Identity Thief
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Identity Thief
Directed by Seth Gordon
Written by Craig Mazin
Starring: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Eric Stonestreet, Jon Favreau
Universal Pictures
Rated R | 111 Minutes
Release Date: February 8, 2013

Directed by Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses), Identity Thief stars Jason Bateman (Arrested Development) as Sandy Bigelow Patterson, a mild-mannered accountant who goes on a cross-country quest to reclaim his stolen identity.

After the police refuse to help, Patterson realizes that his only choice is to travel to Winter Park, Florida, catch the imposter (Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids), and bring her back to Denver to clear his name.

This deceptively harmless-looking fraudster isn’t going without a fight, though, having grown accustomed to living a life of luxury and swindling her way out of every jam. Getting her back to Denver will be a struggle, especially when a bounty hunter (Robert Patrick) and some ruthless mob enforcers (T.I., Genesis Rodriguez) get involved.

When Seth Gordon first gained recognition for his 2007 documentary, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, I thought the filmmaker would have a promising career in making humanistic, thoughtful narrative films – but unfortunately Gordon has become the go-to guy for generic studio comedies.

After directing Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon in 2008’s Four Christmases, Gordon worked in television on shows like Parks and Recreation, The Office, and Modern Family before making Horrible Bosses, his first collaboration with Jason Bateman.

While I enjoyed Horrible Bosses (more for the against-type performances by Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell), it solidified Gordon’s place in Hollywood as the kind of reliable, no-fuss director who studios can depend on to churn out analogous, lowest common denominator comedies on a modest budget.

That’s Identity Thief – a movie that should have been titled Time Bandits for stealing 111 minutes of my life. Look, I really like Jason Bateman, but it seems like directors and producers just want him to play a facsimile of Michael Bluth from Arrested Development ad infinitum.

The Change-Up, Horrible Bosses, Identity Thief, in every film Bateman is the responsible, uptight, plays-by-the-rules guy who is forced to grow some balls to get ahead in life.

Then you’ve got Melissa McCarthy, who throat punches her way through this movie and earns laughs recycling the same ‘big gal’ shenanigans she used in Bridesmaids. I enjoy McCarthy’s work, but I’m worried she’s being advertised as the latest in a long tradition of fat (but surprisingly flexible) funny people.

Together, McCarthy and Bateman are channeling the Chris Farley/David Spade dynamic that worked to great effect in Tommy Boy only to feel hackneyed and old-hat in Black Sheep. Hell, I’m surprised there wasn’t a scene of McCarthy trying on one of Bateman’s suit jackets while singing “Fat girl in a little coat” and dancing around.

Identity Thief does have its moments though – there are a few humorous bits, including a preposterous sex scene involving Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family), but for the most part, Gordon’s film runs too long and wears too thin. There are far too many useless subplots that over-complicate a simplistic story.

Thief contains little content other than throat punches and a plus-size woman singing “My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard” while Jason Bateman gets attacked by a computer-generated snake and beaten with a flaming log.

The biggest problem, however, isn’t the director’s staging of the events or even the typecast performances by the lead actors – it’s the writing. Screenwriter Craig Mazin is responsible for films like The Hangover Part II, Superhero Movie, and Scary Movie 4 – halfhearted, raunchy comedies with little heart and even less brains.

The reason a film like Bridesmaids is so successful and admired as a comedy isn’t for McCarthy’s ability to lift her leg over her head or peg an Air Marshal on the spot – it’s because there was something honest and genuine about the characters and their interactions. Those elements are missing from Gordon’s film, which tries to shoehorn emotional content and superficial sweetness in at the last minute – and misses the mark completely.

I keep waiting for Seth Gordon to commit his efforts to a more creative, unique endeavor – but until then I suppose I’ll just re-watch Arrested Development and prepare myself for the second coming of Michael Bluth, instead of watching his replicant go through the motions in all of these lesser-than comedies.

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