The formula for a road or buddy movie isn’t terribly complicated. Take a couple solid comedians — preferably one with more of a straight or deadpan disposition and one with more of an oddball streak — and throw them together with a clear goal, like getting from point A to point B. Add some weird obstacles and maybe someone working against the goal, and let people watch the two talents playing off each other. Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy are a great pair, with Bateman’s last-sane-man act down pat and McCarthy’s willingness to do just about anything in service of a joke; they make Identity Thief fairly enjoyable on their own. Unfortunately, Craig Mazin’s script doesn’t know when to leave well enough alone, and the story gets a lot more complicated than it needs to be.
Sandy Bigelow Patterson (Bateman) is a straight arrow. He works for a financial services company in Denver as a top-flight accounts manager. He has a wife (Amanda Peet) and two kids (Maggie Elizabeth Jones and her sister Mary-Charles). They pay their bills, and even managed to save $14.03 last month. And life is about to get a lot better when he follows his friend (John Cho) into creating a new firm, dramatically increasing his salary and getting out from under his horrible boss (Jon Favreau).
Unfortunately, despite being a great accountant, Sandy doesn’t seem to think twice about giving his personal information to someone claiming to be calling from a credit protection agency, and that’s how Diana (McCarthy) steals his identity. She runs up debts and even a criminal record in his name, all the way in Winder Park, Florida. The police in Denver realize what’s going on, but they aren’t really equipped to deal with information crimes that cross jurisdictional boundaries, and so it’s on Sandy to bring Diana back to justice on his own.
It’s a promising setup, and the process of getting McCarthy and Bateman from Florida to Colorado alone could probably fill out a decent feature. But no, we have to toss in new wrinkles. I can get into the idea of a bounty hunter (Robert Patrick) joining the chase after Diana — calling herself by Sandy’s name, of course — skipped a court appearance in Florida. He’s trying to pull her in the opposite direction from Sandy, and the potential for him to get confused by the identity theft could be exploited for some time.
But then there’s the idea that Diana sold bad counterfeit credit cards — in Sandy’s name, though it hardly seems to matter — to the organization of a jailed drug kingpin (Jonathan Banks), who has sent a pair of assassins (Genesis Rodriguez and T.I.) after her. This part is poorly motivated at best, and points to the screenplay’s lack of cohesion.
The individual adventures Sandy and Diana get into are also pretty scattershot. Occasionally the script manages to get out of the way and let McCarthy and Bateman work, but all too often the gags seem forced, particularly when Bateman gets involved in slapstick or when McCarthy delivers her sob story. About which: I don’t doubt that she’s capable of delivering some real emotional depth, but this is such an obvious imitation of Del’s story from Planes, Trains and Automobiles that it’s hard to forget how much better John Candy delivered on a much more cohesive story.
So it’s sort of a toss-up; Identity Thief is far from the best road movie going, but maybe the good chemistry between McCarthy and Bateman can make up for the less impressive material they have to work with.
Worth It: not really.
Bechdel Test: fail.