How easy is it to steal Sandy Patterson’s identity? All it takes is a 2-minute phone call.
Played by an overly trusting Jason Bateman, he has no idea the suspiciously concerned person on the other end of the line is Diana (Melissa McCarthy), a solitary loser who specializes in credit card fraud. She deceives the gullible twit into giving up all the information she needs to drown him in debt.
At no point during this brief conversation does it ever occur to Sandy that maybe, just maybe it’s a terrible idea to immediately give out your Social Security number to a complete stranger who just called you for the first time out of the blue, most especially to one who tells you flatly that someone is trying to steal your identity.
But Sandy isn’t bright. The married father of 2 carries on with his mundane day-to-day existence not at all aware that Diana is buying a bunch of crap through his stolen name. When he tries to buy gas, his card gets cut up right in front of him. While driving, he’s notified of a huge bill from a store in Florida. (He lives in Colorado.)
It isn’t until he’s pulled over and arrested that he slowly starts to put things together. Diana missed a court date for punching someone in the throat (a very tired recurring gag) and it isn’t until officer Morris Chestnut (yet another comedown from Boyz N The Hood) gets confirmation on her appearance that he uncuffs a now frustrated Sandy.
Long story short, because the fraud is happening out of state, there’s not much local law enforcement can do. In fact, any kind of investigation will take at least a year anyway. (Really?) And the chance of conviction is between 5 & 10%. (Come on.)
The timing could not be worse for Sandy. He’s just quit his job cutting cheques for dickish boss Jon Favreau to become John Cho’s VP in a new firm. Cho even considers firing him because of his dilemma. (Optics, you see.) But Sandy has an out. Someone from a Florida hair salon called him by accident to confirm an appointment Diana made in his name. With the mutual blessing of Cho & Chestnut, the real Sandy has a week to convince Diana in Florida to come back with him to Colorado to turn herself in.
Suddenly, Identity Thief becomes a cross between Midnight Run and Planes, Trains & Automobiles but without any charm or laughs. From the moment Sandy accidentally bumps his car into Diana’s rental on the highway (he was following her so she decides to pull a pay-in-cash-because-you-hit-me scam), it’s unrelenting war. She constantly socks him in his Adam’s apple and attempts to flee. (She doesn’t get very far.) For his part, he’s either tackling her, bashing her with a guitar or driving erratically so she’ll hit her head on the passenger-side window. (She never shuts up and sings whatever song is playing on the radio.)
Even handcuffing her doesn’t work. One bobby pin and she’s free. Did he not consider chloroform?
Unbeknownst to the clueless Sandy, Diana’s credit card scheme wasn’t really meant for her alone. She was supposed to sell the cards without actually using them to a couple of nefarious characters who are well aware of her fuck-up. (So is bounty hunter Robert Patrick who terrifies that salon owner into giving him her personal information.) Because of this, when they come to her place guns a-blazing, purely for her own survival, Diana sticks with Sandy. Despite some incredibly obnoxious behaviour on her part you can pretty much predict where their relationship is going. To say it’s not at all believable would be redundant.
Jason Bateman & Melissa McCarthy are two of the funniest comic actors in the business today. But you would never know it from watching them in Identity Thief. They struggle mightily to sell this thoroughly predictable, completely indigestible material. In the end, they fail miserably.
It’s hard to summon much sympathy for Diana when she’s so incredibly annoying and obnoxious. A pathological liar who doesn’t even know her own name or birth parents (she was abandoned shortly after her birth), she takes every opportunity she has to embarrass Sandy in public. (Hasn’t this moron suffered enough?) At one point, she hooks up with a widow (Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet) for the strict purpose of robbing him and stealing his identity. Part of her seduction technique is to pretend that Sandy enjoys seeing her get intimate with other men. The whole sequence, like this overlong movie, is painful to watch.
Essentially, Diana is an unloved, overgrown child who constantly acts out for attention and has no idea how to forge healthy relationships with anyone. Shortly after stealing Sandy’s identity she goes to a bar and buys everyone round after round of free drinks hoping to get some love in return. Her antics get her kicked out instead and later, arrested. (The throat punch deal.)
Stonestreet is actually the first person who genuinely likes her or at least the version she’s pretending to be. After they have over-the-top sex, though, she bolts with his ID and cash hoping to escape all her problems. She gets as far as Sandy’s car before suddenly becoming overcome with a conscience. (Oh please.) Shortly thereafter, she quietly slinks back. We’re repeatedly manipulated into feeling sorry for her but we really don’t. She’s out of her goddamned mind.
As if the lack of laughs wasn’t irritating enough, Identity Thief is also awfully maudlin, particularly in its second half. As Sandy & Diana inevitably stop fighting and start conversing, she gradually wins him over with her sad sack bullshit. To get back at old boss Favreau who diminished his contributions (Sandy’s job really is nothing, when you think about it), they decide to steal his identity and live the high life. Then, they get caught.
But Diana has another bobby pin and they escape police custody. Somehow, these serious fraud charges and the unlawful escape from the back of a police car magically disappear and are never addressed again. Sure.
There is only one genuinely funny moment in the film. It happens in the final scene. Without giving anything away, Diana learns her real name. Her reaction to how terrible it is made me laugh twice, first after she says it and then again when just thinking about it during a quiet moment immediately afterward.
By that point, nearly two hours have gone by.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, March 27, 2016