McCarthy shines in lackluster “Identity Thief”
“Identity Thief” is the latest in a string of lazy comedies with clichéd jokes and boring plotlines. Jason Bateman has made quite a career out of playing the uptight businessman, a role he has perfected in too many films and television shows; his character in “Identity Thief,” Sandy Bigelow Patterson, is no different from Michael Bluth on “Arrested Development” or Nick Hendricks in “Horrible Bosses.” The script of the film is too heavy on exposition and too light on punch lines, trying far too hard to make a shaky premise and sprawling criminal plotline work. The secondary characters are largely forgettable, even T.I., who plays one half of a scowling bounty hunting duo that is always one step behind the fugitives. Frankly, “Identity Thief” could have easily been a very bad movie.
The entire film is saved, however, by Melissa McCarthy. The greatest comedic actress working today is in her element as Diana, a con artist who lives extravagantly on stolen money, buying herself everything from a jet ski to a collection of ceramic cat figurines. Diana is sassy, feisty and bold, completely without a moral compass and a total joy to watch. She wreaks havoc on Bateman’s life until he loses his job, forcing him to travel to her home in Florida in order to bring her back to Denver for prosecution. McCarthy nails every scene, balancing self-interest with heart-wrenching compassion and taking all the laughs in the movie with ease.
I read an article recently (on Jezebel, so it should be taken with a grain of salt) that criticized “Identity Thief” for insinuating that a romantic relationship between the two leads would be ridiculous because of McCarthy’s weight. However, I found that the most refreshing part of the movie was that they didn’t insinuate anything, positive or negative, about a romantic relationship between the two leads. Almost every other comedy, whether or not it calls itself a rom-com, is situated around some sort of romantic plotline; in contrast, “Identity Thief” is a story focused exclusively on a blossoming friendship. Any other type of relationship between McCarthy and Bateman would be ridiculous not because of their physical differences, but because part of the film’s driving force involves Bateman’s obligation to and love for his wife and daughters. Bateman and McCarthy build a squabbling, messy relationship based on begrudging respect and mutual admiration without a clichéd, dramatic romantic ending. The story may have developed as a buddy comedy and not a rom-com because McCarthy’s role was originally written for a male lead, but her performance in “Bridesmaids” deservedly landed her the part.
Also concerning the much-debated topic of McCarthy’s weight, I thought that the film actually didn’t have any negative statements about McCarthy’s size. Sure, it is brought up, but the people who criticize her are always ultimately shamed for their negative comments. McCarthy herself certainly never dwells on her weight nor wastes time on those who would try to put her down for it, which is truly the best response to any form of small-minded criticism. After an obligatory makeover scene, in which a team of snarky stylists changes Diana’s hair and makeup and put her into a boring black dress (a shame, really, because her colorful clothes, garish eye shadow and pile of curls express her vibrant personality much more clearly), Bateman’s response is a simple “you look beautiful” with no caveats for her size.
Ultimately, “Identity Thief” could use more jokes all around, but McCarthy more than compensates for the lack of humor from other characters. Hopefully we will continue to see much more from her in much better movies, but until then, “Identity Thief” is worth watching, if only for her.