Sunday, February 10, 2013

Identity Thief / *** (R)

Sandy Patterson: Jason Bateman
Diana: Melissa McCarthy
Julian: T.I.
Marisol: Genesis Rodriguez
Skiptracer: Robert Patrick
Trish Patterson: Amanda Peet
Detective Reilly: Morris Chestnut
Daniel Casey: John Cho
Big Chuck: Eric Stonestreet
Harold Cornish: Jon Favreau

Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Seth Gordon. Written by Craig Mazin and Jerry Eeten. Running time: 112 min. Rated R (for sexual content and language).

I heard a news report the other day about how bank robberies were becoming a crime of the past. I thought they already had. Innovations in real currency technology and other security practices have made robbing banks a high risk/low reward crime. Digital theft, on the other hand, yields higher rewards than bank robbing ever did. And, as long as you know how to spot a sucker, it’s a very low risk market.

Jason Bateman plays a sucker well. He doesn’t look totally innocent, so you can believe he can be successful, but he has this trustworthy quality about him that just begs to be messed with. Melissa McCarthy has this incredible ability to be very bad and still have the audience on her side. She can be mean because she’s short and shout; and most importantly, she’s funny. Funny people can get away with a lot.

It is the pairing of these two actors that makes the road trip fugitive comedy “Identity Thief” a success. There is little new to be found in the plot of Seth Gordon’s latest R-rated shock fest, but Bateman and McCarthy keep the movie afloat with their individual charm and that mysterious intangible connection that is so often referred to as chemistry. It isn’t a sexual chemistry; it’s a comedic one. These two play off each other like those classic comedy duos of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

We meet the thief first. She is perky and colorful and steals the identities of people to live a life in excess of all the material things. She parties at a bar spending her victims’ money by paying for drinks for everyone. She’s the life of her party, but only because she’s buying. The other people have lives they return to; Diane returns to more things and little needs. She gets a hold of other’s identities through a simple phone scam and uses their information to reproduce all their credit cards. She sells some of the credit cards to shady characters, but she’s so caught up in spending the money that eventually she sells bad credit cards and lands herself in some big trouble with an imprisoned crime lord.

Her current victim is Sandy Patterson, a corporate accountant still trying to make means work for his wife and two daughters with a third on the way. Sandy’s boss treats him and the rest of the company employees like garbage. Sandy gets a big break when most of the employees in his branch decide to leave the company and take all its clients with them. They offer Sandy a position at five times his current salary. The only problem that doesn’t seem to be working itself out for Sandy is the way nobody can accept the name Sandy as a male moniker. Then, the warrants start showing up for his arrest.

Sandy needs his good name back immediately. The red tape of the legal system would take far too long for Sandy to keep his new job even though they know exactly who and where the impostor is, and so it seems his best bet is to go to Florida and bring her back to the officials in Denver to prosecute. Considering the amount of money he has to spend to do that, it would seem to me a bounty hunter might’ve been more cost effective. Of course, someone has already hired a skiptracer for a bail she skipped, and that gangster sends a couple of his hitmen after her as well. So you can see that there will be many more obstacles in getting Diane to clear his name than Sandy could possibly anticipate.

Although it isn’t hard to predict how the plot of this movie will progress, there are several sequences that produce moments of satisfying hilarity. One section of the movie involves Diane picking up a salesman in a bar named Big Chuck, played by Eric Stonestreet of “Modern Family”. Their sex scene doesn’t quite reach the heights of those in “MacGruber”, but it’s pretty intense. I especially liked how the “safe word” is ignored. The best comedic moments, however, come when it’s just Bateman and McCarthy working off each other. Their first and second highway encounters are particularly funny. I also liked that even once Sandy begins to realize there is more to this woman than anyone has guessed, she still annoys the hell out of him.

“Identity Thief” is a mid range success for Gordon. His “Four Christmases” was a little too typical, whereas his movie “Horrible Bosses” was more original and broke some sitcom molds. This one lies someplace in between. Some might find the ending a little too neat and sentimental in the way it kind of works out for everybody. I would wonder how any other ending could be better considering how both characters are set up for the audience’s sympathy. With any other actress, Diane couldn’t gain our sympathy. I can’t see why anyone would want this movie to end terribly for either character. This is pretty lighthearted stuff. It’s rendered a little grittier and funnier with the adult treatment afforded by the R rating, but the material never serves anything beyond the joke. Depth isn’t necessary to make this material worthwhile. This is simply a fun time at the movies with a goofball comedy. That’s enough.

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