Leads provide the Identity
For a film that falls far short of its apparent inspiration (“Planes, Trains, & Automobiles” or more aptly the lesser-known 1988 classic “Midnight Run”), “Identity Thief” benefits from the sumptuous talents of leads Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy. Sure, the two deserve better material, but there are enough laughs here to make up for a lot of creative mistakes—but the casting of Bateman and McCarthy isn’t one of them.
Bateman is Sandy Patterson, victim of serial identity stealer Diana (is that her real name?), played with comic fearlessness by McCarthy, who might be the funniest and most genuine comic actress around. She takes a despicable character and makes her immediately likeable, which is important because much of the script is unfocused and will make heavy-handed attempts at sentiment that would ring totally false if not for her.
When Sandy is forced to fly to Denver to bring back Diana to clear his name (his new finance job is in jeopardy), thus begins the road trip comedy that borrows liberally from many better made films. But Bateman and McCarthy are great together, not in a chemistry way, but with their natural comic sensibilities where a simple foot race on the highway or a campfire snake can lead to hearty belly laughs as a packed theater on opening weekend attests.
There’s not quite enough strong material here for a 90-minute movie, witness the completely unfulfilling sub-plot of a drug cartel hunting down Diana that is supposed to offer some “edgy” tension but fails miserably, except for a few moments with the always-reliable Robert Patrick as a bounty hunter. Eric Stonestreet (of TV’s “Modern Family) also has a good turn as a big cowboy who falls for Diana after meeting her in a bar.
While deserving of its “R” rating for profanity, the comedy here might not be raunchy enough for certain fans, but toned down a little it could’ve been a gentler comedy with a wider audience. The film might still do well since there are so few comedies out right now – the cinema is crowded with violent action films, and most are underachieving. Get the message Hollywood? More lighter fare, with good scripts, please. And bring back Bateman and McCarthy together any time. They are worth more than the price of admission, even in a mediocre film like “Identity Thief.”
Rated “R” for sexual content and language.