Friday, February 8, 2013

Identity Thief: Two hours stolen from our lives

Identity Thief (2013) • View trailer
One star. Rating: R, for violence, vulgarity, relentless profanity and frequently crude sexuality
By Derrick Bang

Some things just aren’t funny, and identity theft is high on that list. Any veteran of the struggle to reclaim bank accounts, credit ratings and the rest — and that’s quite a lot of people, at this point — will be thoroughly disgusted by an effort to paint the process as “amusing.”

Having just caught up with the woman (Melissa McCarthy) who hijacked his bank
account and good name, Sandy (Jason Bateman) spoils her day by revealing his
genuine driver's license. Alas, that won't cut much ice; he's a few seconds away
from a sucker-punch to the throat. 
But that didn’t stop scripters Craig Mazin and Jerry Eeten from trying to fashion a comedy out of this topic, a task at which they failed miserably.

Identity Thief signals its tawdry, numbnuts lack of redeeming virtues almost immediately; it’s one of those gawdawful flicks that has you scanning for exits before 5 minutes have passed, in case rapid flight is the better part of valor.

Trust me: It’s your best option.

Seth Gordon has gone nowhere but down since coming to Hollywood’s attention with 2007’s The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, a whimsical and thoroughly fascinating documentary about an unemployed Washington teacher’s attempts to break a longstanding record in the arcade game Donkey Kong.

Since then, Gordon has burnished his rep with clumsy, badly paced and thoroughly humorless junk such as Four Christmases and Horrible Bosses. He seems to fancy himself a low-rent Judd Apatow wannabe, trolling in projects that offer the same uncomfortable blend of profanity, vulgarity, moron slapstick and “funny” violence.

Yes, indeed: Nothing elicits chuckles like the sight of a woman being smacked by an SUV and then hurled, like a sack of potatoes, to the side of a highway ... after which she gets up and dusts herself off, apparently having bruised no more than her dignity. Uh-huh.

The degree of Gordon’s miscalculation, in that scene alone, can be clocked by the gasps of horror as the woman was hit ... and the muted, barely there wisp of nervous laughter when she stood up and made light of the incident. You lost a theater filled with viewers there, Seth.

Actually, that’s not true; you lost ’em a good hour before that.

Jason Bateman is a reasonably funny and competent actor cursed by the worst taste in projects, often ghastly attempts at romantic comedy such as Couples Retreat and The Switch. He also was part of Gordon’s Horrible Bosses debacle, and these aren’t even the most awful; all three of his 2012 films — The Longest Week, Hit and Run and Disconnect — barely achieved theatrical release. Never heard of them? Consider yourself lucky.

He stars here as Sandy Patterson, a Denver-based investment guru with a devoted wife (Amanda Peet, wasting her time) and two adorable young daughters (real-life siblings Mary-Charles Jones and Maggie Elizabeth Jones, the latter well remembered from We Bought a Zoo). As this story begins, Sandy is working for horrible boss Harold Cornish (Jon Favreau), apparently left over from Gordon’s previous film; said tyrant belittles Sandy in a scene that’s impressive for its bad writing, inept direction and stiff acting.

Good Lord, we think; will the rest of the film be this poor?


Sandy gratefully accepts an offer to join fellow employees, led by Daniel Casey (John Cho), who are departing en masse to start their own rival firm, along the way poaching all of Cornish’s best customers. (Memo to Mazin and Eeten: It doesn’t work that way. Cornish would have had them all in court before the paint dried on the upstart competitor’s new offices.)

Alas, we’ve already seen Sandy make the mistake that will fuel his adventures for the rest of this cinematic train wreck, when he blithely shared his Social Security number and everything else during a phone call with an accommodating bank officer. Except that Diana (Melissa McCarthy), on the other end of that call, doesn’t work at Sandy’s bank; she’s a Florida-based hustler who burns herself a credit card and driver’s license with Sandy’s unisex name, and then proceeds to burn through his funds.

It should be mentioned that Mazin and Eeten repeatedly try to milk humor from the “girlish” nature of Sandy’s name, an effort at a running gag that drowns in the flop-sweat of all their other witless notions of “funny.”

McCarthy has made a career out of sending up her plus-size appearance, in projects such as Bridesmaids and TV’s Mike & Molly, and she really hammers that nail here. Diana is a randy, foul-mouthed sociopath with absolutely no redeeming virtues, and the spoiled-bitch attitude of a petulant 5-year-old. I’ll give McCarthy credit for fearlessness, because she exposes all of Diana’s physical, emotional and psychological warts during an alcohol-fueled binge at a bar, which ends with her arrest.

Gordon and his scripters obviously expect this scene to be funny. It isn’t. It may be more inept than the exchange between Bateman and Favreau.

A few weeks later, Sandy registers the damage done to his credit and good name; it gets worse when he’s arrested, since Diana — still in Florida — ignored her court hearing on the barroom assault charge. A sympathetic detective (Morris Chestnut) helps straighten out the confusion and purges the arrest, but can’t do much else. Then good buddy Daniel demonstrates his faith by threatening to fire Sandy, albeit “reluctantly” (yet another false note in Mazin and Eeten’s tone-deaf script).

Sandy therefore concocts a crazy plan to fly to Florida, find his counterfeit self and promise her immunity from prosecution if she’ll “simply” accompany him back to Denver, and square things with Daniel. In reality, the cops will record this conversation from another room, at which point they’ll swoop in and haul Diana off to the pokey.

Sandy’s initial encounter with Diana doesn’t go well, involving another of her signature throat-punches and the unexpected arrival of two gun-toting gang-bangers — Marisol (Genesis Rodriguez) and Julian (T.I.) — furious over some hot credit cards she sold them. Now forced to drive back to Denver — Diana having pointed out that the airline likely would take a dim view of two Sandy Pattersons boarding the same plane — Gordon’s film assumes the identity of a Hollywood staple: the road picture.

Subsequent adventures involve a rough-and-tumble skip tracer (Robert Patrick, actually somewhat amusing) and — during an interlude that lasts forever, and plumbs new depths of sexual debasement — Diana’s lust-laden, alcohol-fueled encounter with a new best friend who calls himself Big Chuck (Eric Stonestreet).

Root-canal surgery would be preferable to this torture.

This sequence concludes — oh, and didn’t we see this coming? — when Diana, seizing the opportunity to ditch Sandy, steals his wallet and phone ... but then has a change of heart when his daughters make their usual good-night call.

Because, you see, Diana really isn’t that bad; she’s simply unloved and misunderstood.

Yep, despite all of this woman’s horrible, reckless, mean-spirited and larcenous behavior up to this point, we viewers now are supposed to feel sorry for her. And like her. Just as Sandy begins to do. Because he’s such a good judge of character.

Disbelief cannot possibly be suspended this much.

Bateman sleepwalks through another in his long line of put-upon nebbishes, an archetype — credit where due — that he pulls off with a sympathetic blend of wounded pride and reluctant determination. Sandy’s definitely a good guy, and we’d feel for him under better circumstances, and in a better film.

McCarthy, a veritable force of nature, thinks nothing of milking humor from her ample frame; one of very few genuinely funny moments comes when Diana tries to outrun Sandy — twice — and is reduced to huffing and puffing after only a few yards. McCarthy also runs with every filthy line this script tosses her, turning Diana into a creature turned on by her delusional sense of a carnal self.

Gordon and his writers obviously hope for the hilarity of McCarthy’s attempted seduction of the undercover air marshal in Bridesmaids, but such efforts here fall abysmally flat.

In fairness, Mazin and Eeten do pull off one miracle, when this ghastly mess sprouts an unexpectedly sweet — albeit unlikely — Hollywood ending, with issues of morality addressed appropriately. Of course, I could just as quickly point out that they abandon a subplot about an incarcerated crime lord who wants Diana dead. What ... like this nasty dude suddenly would forgive and forget?

But a refreshingly good-natured final act cannot compensate for everything that came before, or for this appalling flick’s biggest sin: its way-too-long running time. No comedy of this nature should be even a nanosecond over 95 minutes, and this one clocks in at just shy of a ludicrously indulgent two hours.

Watching junk like this is good only because of the profound relief experienced when the lights finally come up. It’s like beating your head against a wall: It feels good when you stop.

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