Jason Bateman has been a comedic force worth noting for decades now, popping into the spotlight and fading back into obscurity. Thankfully, his post Arrested Development era seems to be full of more successes than failures. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that, over the past few years, he’s really cemented his ability as a frustrated straight man, worthy of sitting alongside Bud Abbott and George Burns.
Identity Thief gives Bateman yet another reason to get frustrated as his character with the insufferably unisex name of Sandy Patterson finds himself a victim of identity theft within the first few moments of the movie. With his personal and professional lives in disarray and the police unable (or unwilling) to help, Sandy has no choice but to track down the thief that is using his name, played by Melissa McCarthy, and bring her to his workplace to satisfy everyone that he isn’t as financially irresponsible (and in trouble with the law) as it would seem. Yes, it’s a plot that is completely inconceivable and unbelievable, but once you get past that it turns out Identity Thief is a pretty entertaining comedy.
Based on the description sold through the film’s trailers and marketing, I really expected Identity Thief to be a comedy along the lines of The Bounty Hunter or One for the Money, only minus the romantic connection between Bateman and McCarthy. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Bateman’s character tracks down his thief relatively quickly and the bulk of the movie focuses on their trip from Florida to Detroit. Yes, that’s right ladies and gentlemen, we have a road trip picture on our hands, more akin to Tommy Boy, Due Date, or a crass, R-rated version of The Road to… pictures brought to you by the same people who did The Hangover Part II (writer Craig Mazin) and Horrible Bosses (director Seth Gordon).
Gordon, who worked with Bateman in Horrible Bosses, uses the actor in his best capacity, as a frustrated victim who just wants to do what is “right.” It’s the same role Bateman played in Horrible Bosses, and Arrested Development and he brings the same level of skill here as he did with those projects. Yes, it means Bateman is quickly becoming one of those actors who doesn’t actually “act” but relies on the same schtick, but it works well for us. Besides, if he keeps throwing in the oddball performance like State of Play‘s metrosexual elitist he’ll avoid being completely pigeon-holed.
Where the movie really comes alive is with Melissa McCarthy’s wild act. While the actress is no stranger to playing straight man as well, being forced into that role for television’s Mike & Molly, the truth is she’s a lot more enjoyable when she’s allowed to go a little crazy, a la Bridesmaids. While there’s nothing quite as demeaning as relieving herself of explosive diarrhea over a sink, her character here has her own wild streak, brought about through the insecurities that cause her to resort to identity theft in the first place. As a result, McCarthy gets a few meaty scenes to show her character’s depth, and a lot of scenes where she gets to go outlandishly absurd. She brings more than a few laughs to the film, but also a few “awww” moments as well – at least, as many as you’ll allow considering how ridiculous the film’s plot is, which is definitely its biggest obstacle.
Aside from Bateman and McCarthy, the film carries a fun supporting cast including Robert Patrick (Terminator 2) as a redneck bounty hunter of sorts, Jon Favreau (Iron Man) as Bateman’s boss in a scene that could easily have made this Horrible Bosses 2, and Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family) as Big Chuck, one of the more colorful characters Sandy and Diana encounter on their journey.
Ultimately, Identity Thief is a little more sophomoric than it needs to be, following the trend of popular R-rated comedies, but it brings some good laughs and turns out to be a fun road trip picture. I can’t imagine it will go down as one of the best comedies of 2013, but it’s not bad for a February release, particularly if you like Bateman’s straight man antics and McCarthy’s outlandishness.