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14 Feb 2013

'Identity Thief' Insults and Wastes the Talents of Melissa McCarthy

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Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy in Identity Thief. Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy in Identity Thief.

After her Oscar-nominated turn in Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy gets a headlining role alongside Jason Bateman in Identity Thief. While both performers are talented and make the best of the crap heap of a script they were handed, it’s not enough to make this anything more than a desperate misfire.

McCarthy has a lot of talent. One only needs to see her in The Nines to understand her dramatic capabilities. Yet, here she is, being smashed in the face with guitars and asked to lip-sync that stupid milkshake song while sitting in the passenger’s seat for yet another riff on Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

This is the sort of junk Chris Farley would have been handed back in the days before his heart exploded. McCarthy is a big woman, so she is cast in the role of sloppy clown to Bateman’s dapper straight man. Well, McCarthy is also a beautiful and talented woman, and she’s deserving of a classier showcase. Watching this garbage, I was surprised director Seth Gordon never forced her to put on a few-sizes-too-small windbreaker and have her sing “Fat Girl in a Little Jacket.”

Bateman’s Sandy Patterson gets his identity stolen by McCarthy’s Diana, and he faces legal and job troubles as a result. So he leaves Colorado for Florida in search of “Bilbo,” or so he calls her, because the cops won’t help him. When the two meet up, it turns out Diana has a mean throat punch and will not go quietly. 

The two have a couple of good fights, with Diana getting smashed in the head with a guitar and struck with a waffle iron. Identity Thief actually does OK in the physical-comic-violence category. I chortled a bit at the hits these two were taking. This probably would’ve been a better movie had it been just 90 minutes of Diana and Sandy throwing stuff at each other and getting hit by vehicles.

Sandy eventually gets Diana into a car, and in the tradition of road comedies, the journey starts off with the two hating each other. Sandy must endure a night of Diana having sex with a stranger, various roadside disasters and Diana singing to the radio.

Of course, Sandy and his family will eventually see that Diana, even though she has robbed them blind, is a great lady deep down inside. She actually spends the night at their house, holding hands with the kids as they sleep. I don’t know; I think it would take more than Diana putting mashed potatoes on her face for a couple of laughs at the dinner table to be forgiven for destroying their financial lives.

Sandy’s family consists of everybody’s go-to movie wife, Amanda Peet. Peet is asked to perform the film’s most impossible task—playing a wife and mother who would even allow Diana in the house. My mom is a relatively meek lady, but if anybody like Diana would have tried to come in through the front door, she would’ve faced the wrath of her wooden spoon. God dammit, I hated that stupid wooden spoon.

Gordon, who put together the much-better Horrible Bosses, is basically working with one joke—Diana is a mess, and Sandy will be tortured while dealing with her. Gordon tries to redeem Diana by the end of the film, even giving her a makeover that results in some cringe-worthy dialogue.

It’s hard to have a lot of fun watching a man’s life getting wrecked by identity theft. Hell, somebody tried to steal my identity and go shopping with my debit card just a couple of months ago. I wasn’t laughing then, and I wasn’t laughing all that much at Identity Thief.

Hollywood … please don’t squander McCarthy’s talent. Give her the dramatic, respectable roles she deserves.

Identity Thief is playing in theaters across the valley.

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