February 8th, 2013 | by JAY HORTON Movies & Television | Posted In: Movie Reviews

Poor Credit: Identity Thief Reviewed

     
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Identity Thief screened after WW press deadlines. Critic Jay Horton may have retained his identity, but he'll never have those 111 minutes back.

Critic's Grade: C-

If an awareness of dimming economic realities were to occupy any Hollywood genre, you'd figure the gross-out comedy a natural fit. Shouldn't lowest-common-denominator humor cater to the 99 percent? For the briefest of moments, as an ebullient Melissa McCarthy blithely swindles Jason Bateman’s buttoned-down Denver accounts manager by exploiting the naive arrogance of the elite (she pretends to be a bank employee offering a credit protection service), there's a hint of the anarchic zeal that could have lent Identity Thief a distinct personality. Before anyone might start pondering telemarketing fraud as potential career, though, we're informed that Bateman's heroic financial services functionary can barely support his beatific family despite tireless labor, while McCarthy lavishes her ill-gotten largess on a four-figure bar tab for patrons who—we're told twice, lest we somehow miss the message—are not really her friends.

McCarthy's character has no friends, but neither quite does Bateman's. Identity Thief's portrait of modern America encompasses only good bosses, bad bosses, loving spouses, bed-partners borne of unquiet desperation, and a string of barely-explained threats. And, like the garish array of tchotchkes that crowd McCarthy's Florida home, the film's outsize budget has installed a depressingly talented list of character actors (Robert Patrick, John Cho, Amanda Peet, John Favreau) vainly trying to flesh out wafer-thin contrivances. It's a waste of resources especially galling because a movie like this would be so much more likable without a plot. McCarthy's effervescent crassness and Bateman's mastery of the long-suffering slow-burn are as richly combustible as you'd expect, but, while the sudden eruptions of a frankly brutal slapstick work a treat, it's a long slog in reclaimed-hobo trousers to get there.

Disastrously, before the two are launched on their journey to clear Bateman’s good name for creditors and legal authorities, we waste the first quarter of the film on unnecessary machinations. These are seemingly included to reassure the audience that hard work shall be rewarded and crime does not (in terms of emotional fulfillment, anyhow) pay. There's a tradition of American road comedies pairing the immaculate object with an unbearable force—Planes, Trains, and Automobiles the clearest antecedent for wringing uncomfortable laughs from the spreading volume, in all ways, of an unwanted travel companion—but the engine sparking the best of these pictures depends upon delaying the fated sentimentality for as long as possible.

Identity Thief papers over gaping questions of motivation and common sense through a succession of car crashes, limp capers and even the transformative makeover, but the project as a whole is so thoroughly ill-conceived that it arrives morally bankrupt. If we’ve learned anything the past few years, there’s no such thing as a comedy too big to fail.
 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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