Movie Review: Identity Thief- A Drawn Out and Increasingly Unfunny Comedy with Illogical Writing and Poor Pacing

jason-bateman-melissa-mccarthy-identity-thiefWhen director Seth Gordon’s last comedy Horrible Bosses was being advertised there was little to admire in the trailer but actually didn’t completely fail to deliver occasional laughs in a comedy that was undeniably bitter and mean-spirited. That resentful bitterness and absolutely unkind outlook on smug rich men and incompetent bosses has leaked over into his newest mean-spirited comedy, which is actually a stretch on the definition of comedy since mostly everything in Identity Thief just isn’t funny. Unlike with Horrible Bosses, Identity Thief doesn’t have any surprising good characteristics to separate it from its awful trailer but actually is worse than its trailer because it’s so much longer. Not only is the script filled with giant plot holes, illogical character changes, and inaccurate police procedure, but the core philosophy of the movie is simply downright repugnant once you get down to the bare essentials. There are two overarching themes that stretch our moral conventions in the film; the first moral theme is that stealing from people is wrong unless they happen to be a rich arrogant snob while the second moral theme is that criminal activity can be forgiven if you happen to have a sweet creamy nice center in the middle of your obnoxious self. Seth Gordon doesn’t seem to have great comedic pacing as evidenced from his previous works Four Christmases and the short lived television show “Breaking In” so it isn’t surprising that most of Identity Thief feels void of laughs. Craig Mazin’s script relies on the occasional toss in of vulgarity or the unbelievably ridiculous to distract you from his ill-thought out concept about stealing identities. Joke after joke lands about as rough as Melissa McCarthy hits the pavement after getting hit by the car in the film forcing us to see all the faults in this messily written and poorly executed comedy. This was a real chance to construct a comedy about a relevant modern issue but was wasted due to poor research, lazy writing, and off the mark pacing.

Identity Thief follows the identity stolen victim Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) as he tries to become amateur bounty hunter and bring to Denver, Colorado Diana (Melissa McCarthy) who has ruined his financial and personal life. The mere fact that the Denver police were open to the suggestion of vigilante civilian arrest and abduction in the script means that Craig Mazin’s reality is in another dimension than our own. Another laughable accuracy issue is that there is nothing that can be done about police getting a criminal in another state eliciting the response, “if only there were a Bureau of some sort that could handle problems like this.” Taking a real issue in our modern world and making it something completely unreal does a disservice to actual victims of identity theft while the lack of comedy does a disservice to those expecting a comedy. Most of the comedy is focused on being incredibly malicious in the dialogue exchanges between Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy and while the first hint of it brings a chuckle or two the incessant continuation wears out its welcome fast. From there Identity Thief follows the usual formula for Hollywood comedies as poorly orchestrated physical gags and overtly disgusting situations plague the film from beginning, middle, and end. Basically the film as a social commentary doesn’t work and it especially doesn’t work as a comedy because it ultimately feels like a turned down Adam Sandler script. Add in a convoluted mess of unnecessary mobsters and a trigger happy bounty hunter and Identity Thief has successfully become a con artists ploy to steal your hard earned money in order to see this messily thought out garbage of a comedy.

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A relatively unfunny script can sometimes be saved by proper execution and clever substitutions in the filming process but that can’t be expected with Seth Gordon at the helm. Gordon’s best work has been in the documentary realm having directed the excellent King of Kong and the fairly interesting Freakanomics while the majority of his comedic work has been subpar at best. Perhaps some of the vulgar situations and unbelievable physical gags would have been funny if it had a director with a good sense of timing and of film pacing. Comedies never feel abysmally long even when they’re awful but Identity Thief just dragged on for a series of two or three endings each less interesting and less coherent than the last. But what’s been consistent in Gordon’s work, despite the fact he doesn’t write the scripts, is this middle finger attitude to rich people (case in point, Ayn Rand comment in the film). If Horrible Bosses and Identity Thief were examples of the kind of manifesto Seth Gordon would have on the treatment of incompetent bosses or smug rich people then he probably would be in prison by now. Instead Gordon gets to reenact his deep seated bitterness towards bankers, financiers, and other less desirables with poor excuses of comedy financed and distributed by rich people. When all is fails from script to direction then it all falls on the actors to bring a bit of creativity or charisma to the screen.

The real crime of Identity Thief is the utter waste of talent from two prominent comedic talents today, Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy. McCarthy of course charmed everyone after her Academy Award nominated performance in Bridesmaids bringing her to the forefront of wanted personalities for their comedy films seeing as how Judd Apatow used her in This is 40 and she’ll be repeating a Paul Feig collaboration in The Heat later in the year. However, while McCarthy does try incredibly hard to bring her desired form of vulgarity it just feels like an absolute copy of her comedy in Bridesmaids while adding in a bit of dramatic range. It’s not her fault though because the script sets up an unbelievably unsympathetic character due to the fact that she has been stealing identities her entire life. While we might begin to play the smallest violin to her dramatic tale on how she never knew her parents there is still that uncomfortable knowledge that she has ruined numerous lives beyond her current victim. Bateman doesn’t get the meatier part in Identity Thief so it’s difficult for him to deliver his straight man routine without any cleverness to the lines or the situations. These two talents deserve better material and the world of comedy deserve better. Adding up the poorly conceived script, the off pacing for joke delivery, and a cast that isn’t being challenged or used properly just creates a comedy film that isn’t worth the time.

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Comedy doesn’t have to avoid being mean-spirited or bitter when it’s presenting its subject matter but it all has to make some sense. What could have been a needed social commentary on the aftereffects of identity theft turns into a typical, raunchy comedy that has nothing but resentment and an illogically skewed look on the world of crime and financing. Identity Thief is being pitched as the first best comedy of 2013 and while that’s quite a low standard it’s still a flat out lie. The film is a messily written, uninspiringly performed, and lazily directed to make the first wasted opportunity comedy of 2013. Some people always say that the best parts are in the trailer and in the case of Identity Thief that’s a drastic understatement because never seeing this overly drawn out final product with absolutely no memorable jokes or lines is the best thing you could do in regards to Identity Thief. Perhaps Seth Gordon should just stick to documentaries since that seems to be a place where at least an editor can guide his material to the creation of a better product.

Grade: C-

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