Movie Review: Identity Thief

‘Identity Thief’ Tries to Steal Your Heart, Just Swipes Your Time

A review by Phil Villarreal. Phil is an author, blogger and Twitterer.

SCORE: 1.5 stars (out of 4)

Just how funny do you find throat punches? Do they get better the more you see them? If the first one you spit out your popcorn in delight, does the fifth one make soda squirt out your nose and the eighth one make you pee your pants a little?

If so, Identity Thief has an offer for you. Just give it $10 or so, your Social Security number and your PIN and it will subtract about two hours from your miserable life. But boy, will there be laughs.

Just not many laughs for you. But the producers will probably get a good chuckle as they cash their royalty checks and the ticket-taker might have to stifle a giggle as he prints out your ticket.

Don’t feel too bad if you’re duped by the trailers, which trick you into thinking the comedy has a lot going for it. Melissa McCarthy is funny enough to make conspiracy theorists believe she’s Chris Farley’s estranged daughter, and Just Bateman… well, he usually isn’t all that great in movies, but he was pretty good in Arrested Development (the show, not the 90s funk band), right? Oh, and he totally rocked The Hogan Family!

Bateman, who has really nailed that constipated expression, plays Sandy, a stooge-like Denver banker who gets pushed around at work and falls for a phone-phishing scam run by McCarthy’s fraudster Florida freak, Diana. Her credit card fraud and drug dealer double-crosses put Sandy at risk of losing his job and going to jail, so he heads off to Florida to convince her to come to Denver and admit she’s responsible for all the crimes.

Here’s a comedy rule of thumb: When a straightforward description of the plot is funnier on an ironic level than any joke in the film, you’re in for a bad time.

The best parts of the movie, which tries to go all Planes, Trains and Automobiles and make the characters bond over the shared realization that Diana is such a sad, pathetic loser, are probably the car chases. There are a couple of them, and they’re impressive. The fights are also decent. McCarthy is pretty good at throat-punching for comedic effect. She’s not so great, though, at making the throat punches funnier and funnier as they go. Another comedy rule of thumb: When the fights and car chases are the best parts, you’re better off staying at home and watching the wretched mess that The Office has become.

Director Seth Gordon knows the material, seeing as he’s proven to be something of a filmmaker con artist. He tricked everyone into thinking he had real talent when he broke into the big time with the 2007 documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, only to sell out as quickly as possible with the blah Four Christmases (2008), the awful 2010 Freakonomics doc and the halfway decent Horrible Bosses in 2011.

For your time and cash, the movie gives you three or four good laughs. Double that if you pop a funny boner for throat punches.

If that sounds like a good deal to you, I know a Nigerian prince through email who says he could make you a ton of money.

Starring Justin Bateman and Melissa McCarthy. Written by Craig Mazin, based on a story by Mazi and Jerry Eaten. Directed by Seth Gordon. Rated R. 112 minutes.

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