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“Identity Thief” has no identity

Identity theft is a serious crime. In this day and age, it’s no laughing matter. However, even a crime such as this could make for an amazing comedy in the right hands. “Identity Thief,” unfortunately, is not that film.

Jason Bateman stars as Sandy Patterson, a financial bureaucrat with a loving family who finds himself victim to identity theft by con artist Diana (Melissa McCarthy).  When Diana racks up a massive credit card debt, Sandy must travel across the country to bring her back to his boss so he can keep his job after she confesses.

The film itself plays like a buddy comedy/road movie, with Bateman and McCarthy spending a majority of the film trying to work their way from Florida to Denver. Sandy and Diana make for a delightful comedic duo, with Bateman’s Sandy playing the straight man to McCarthy’s more wild character.

Diana and Sandy’s road trip is more enjoyable when they’re arguing back and forth, but unfortunately the film derives most of its humor from McCarthy’s gross-out antics. Most of these jokes end up falling flat and are more cringe-inducing than funny. The dynamic between Sandy and Diana makes for some great laughs toward the beginning, but the undercooked (and at times ridiculous) plot and half-baked characters make the rest of the trip a bore. It’s just as well, since Bateman and McCarthy have great chemistry but their relationship, even by comedy standards, doesn’t work.

While the film wants us to believe that Sandy and Diana bond over their journey, it’s hard to believe that Sandy would willingly become friends with her, given what she did to him. The two actors sell the growing friendship and get some decent laughs, but the circumstances behind this change just don’t seem very convincing.

Every other character Sandy and Diana meet is nothing more than a poor stereotype. We’ve got a hard-as-nails bounty hunter, two crazy gangsters, a red neck cowboy and an unfeeling boss, all of whom are thoroughly wasted and don’t have much stake in the action. Sandy’s wife, two daughters and best friend also have roles here, but they aren’t around long enough and nothing ever comes of them.

What’s more, the film itself doesn’t even know what it wants to be at times. It keeps switching from a gross-out comedy to a gangster film to a buddy movie, and seems to just make up its rules as it goes along. Sometimes it forgets it’s even a comedy, trying to shoe horn in a few tear-jerking moments to make us feel sorry for the main characters. Such a rapid change in tone makes me wonder if the filmmakers wanted this as a comedy in the first place.

While it gets great performances from Bateman and McCarthy, this film ultimately fails at being a memorable comedy. The only thing that’s really funny is how a film called “Identity Thief” didn’t take time to develop an identity all of its own.

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