“Society can’t function without rules!” insists Sandy Bigelow Patterson (Jason Bateman) of Denver, Colorado. But following the rules hasn’t gotten him too far in life; he lives in a tiny apartment with his wife (Amanda Peet) and two young children, makes a meager wage at his thankless accounts processing job, and has just been turned down for another promotion (while his superior receives a hefty million dollar raise). But his real problems start when his identity is stolen by a plucky, remorseless con artist named Diana (Melissa McCarthy) - and he’s arrested for her failure to appear in court on charges she accrued in Winter Park, Florida. Thanks to some awkward jurisdictional structuring and inevitable delays to cleaning up his record, his best chance for righting her wrongs is to fly down to Florida and convince her to journey back to Colorado to confess to local law enforcement.
It happens every year, and it’s a problem encountered by far too many comedies. If the plot is going to be light-hearted and fun-loving, there’s simply no room for extremely dark characters and situations. Roles that involve mental psychosis, excessive ruthlessness, or inclinations to physical violence create a bluntly conflicting tone. So too do scenarios that involve severe social or judicial repercussions. When it’s unbelievable even in the realm of fictional facetiousness and when actions or reactions raise eyebrows just at the embarkation of subplots, the character development and writing have gone too far. Goofy road-trip films lose all comedic momentum when too much bloodletting, attempted murder, or lengthy incarcerations enter the playing field.
“Identity Thief” demonstrates this in spades, continually traveling down the path of least expectance. It’s an obvious effort to generate laughs, but it rarely adds up to laugh-out-loud funny moments or remote sensibility. Diana commences her relationship with Sandy with instant discordance, resorting to battery and mockery. Unexpectedly portrayed in a comedy, this is what can be expected from catching a criminal in the midst of their caper; odder still is that it’s not particularly funny to see Diana toy with villainy so undeviatingly. Later, after she’s warmed up to Sandy, she unexplainably shakes the scurrility and aggression – even for the raging, nearly homicidal skip-tracer (Robert Patrick) hunting her down.
The grandest inconsistency revolves around Diana’s morality. It’s one thing to construct an anti-hero; it’s another to build up a character’s unscrupulousness until feeling sympathy seems like an entirely abandoned hope. She’s shown to have low self-esteem, a poor upbringing, and no dependable friends. Sandy is in a similarly pitiable position, being belittled by his browbeating boss (Jon Favreau), worrying about his wife’s pregnancy, and on the verge of losing his source of income. While the plot is curious, the solution is utterly nonsensical – but at least Sandy is a clear-cut protagonist. Diana handles the situation by unceasingly digging a deeper hole: breaking more laws, upsetting more malefactors, and belligerently opposing the inane yet innocent ideas Sandy poses for recompense. It takes so long for Diana to grow a conscience, it’s nearly too late to want to see her character come out all right. And once she finally exhibits a softer side, the film spends too many minutes padding the already lengthy runtime with random gags to draw out the climax.
- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)