I have sympathy for Jason Bateman's Sandy Bigelow-Patterson for reasons other than he was victim to identity fraud. Being a male and having the name "Sandy" sets up a variety of jokes from socially childish people who have never seen a male with the unisex name of "Sandy." Had it not been for my sweet mother, I would've been "Michel Pulaski," rather than "Steven" because of my father's obsession with Canada and their hockey players and Quebec Nordiques-player Michel Goulet.
Other than that, that's about all the sympathy I have for the characters in Seth Gordon's Identity Thief. Overlong, underwritten, and tritely crafted, this is a perfect example of a comedy in the genre I call "maximum antics, minimum laughter." To qualify for the placement, you must subject a somewhat interesting premise to more grating physical schtick than the intelligently crafted kind, which centers around characters, wit, heart, substance, and wordplay.
As established, Bateman plays Sandy Bigelow-Patterson, a mild-mannered everyman, functioning aimlessly in the corporate world that leaves him stuck in the center of the ladder. He struggles not only with responsibility and a constant neglect in a pay raise, but with his wife (Amanda Peet) and two children, whose demands will soon become greater. The last thing Sandy needs is Diana (Melissa McCarthy), a portly, frantic, remorseless woman who targets Sandy as the latest victim in her ongoing credit card fraud scheme by obtaining his information via prank call, making him believe his credit card account is in jeopardy. It is when him and a number of his coworkers ditch their dead-end jobs and begin working at a company created by one of the ex-employees (John Cho) does Sandy feel his life is on the up-and-up.
Sandy is soon arrested for failing to appear at a court hearing for Diana, and this is when he discovers he is a victim of an identity theft. Because the law enforcement of Denver has a cockamamie list of rules they adhere to, not arresting or even researching Diana's records since she lives in Winter Park, Florida, Sandy decides to take matters into his own hands by going down to Florida to nab Diana and get her to confess to law enforcement and to his boss to remain secure in his life again. He assumes that because of Diana's pudgy nature, she'll be an easy catch, until he finds that she's a violent, dangerous menace that is almost frighteningly haunted and mentally off balance. Not only that, but both are being pursued by a witless debt collector and two other assassins that want both dead for the crimes they've committed or allegedly committed.
What ensues is a predictable, uneven road comedy between the two, with two actors swimming in potential, but wasting it in a comedy of tired errors. Jason Bateman can play straight characters in obscure worlds in a beautiful way (see Extract for reference), and Melissa McCarthy showed that being gross can be funny in Judd Apatow's Bridesmaids. Both of their schticks begin to show signs of wear as Identity Thief haplessly approaches the hour mark and many laugh-inducing situations have been proposed but none of them fully exercising them.
Gordon's previous film was Four Christmases, a film that wasn't as mawkish and oversentimentalized as it could've been. While it still accentuated a rather negative relation to the holiday of Christmas and was part of the genre I just spoke of, it still kept its premise concise and did not overcompensate its material to a ghastly overlong length. Identity Thief does the opposite. Its unnecessary sequences involving overweight people having intercourse and public humiliation are got from the drearily immature cloth I'm growing ever-so fond of laying in when I watch comedies.
Yet the film really drops the ball when it attempts to make Diana a character we're supposed to feel bad for after all her menace, violent nature, unjustifiable cruelty, and not to mention, her willingness to commit crimes of sheer carelessness. She is so loathsome that it isn't that her dramatic instances where her character receives humanization fall flat, but it's that she's proved herself to be such a smug, arrogant, astronomically mean-spirited character that it's like trying to accept a friend back after he's taken advantage of you numerous times. You feel cheated, used, and now, foolish to consider accepting them back into your life.
Identity Thief unfortunately subjects its leads into joyless, gimmicky physical schtick, frequent car chases, and sorely unfunny scenes that evoke the least common denominator of juvenile humor. It may not be as unabashedly quirky as some other comedic efforts I've seen this year, but regarding the cast, the material, and the ability of the director to create a comfortable, unobtrusive atmosphere, this endeavor should've much, much funnier.
Starring: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Amanda Peet, and John Cho. Directed by: Seth Gordon.