erik lundegaard

Identity Thief
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Identity Thief (2013)

WARNING: SPOILERS

A friend of mine once said of the old “I Love Lucy” show, “It never made me laugh, it just made me anxious.”

“Identity Thief,” the 2013 comedy starring Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman, is that anxiety times 100.

Written byCraig Mazin
Jerry Eeten
Directed bySeth Gordon
StarringJason Bateman
Melissa McCarthy
John Favreau
Amanda Peet

What an awful, awful movie. Awful. You know how sometimes you use movies to lift yourself out of a bad mood? I had the opposite experience here. I sat down in pretty good spirits and got up nearly two excruciating hours later pissed at the world. I remained in a foul mood for 24 hours. That such a thing could be made. That it would gross nearly $175 million worldwide. That the aptly-named Tom Charity of CNN.com and the more aptly-named Scott Bowles of USA Today would both give it positive reviews. That both critics are considered “top critics” on RottenTomatoes.com.

Here: The very premise of the movie provokes anxiety. Most of us don’t work because we like the job; we work to survive, support a family, etc. We are giving up huge swaths of irretrievable time in order to accumulate a little bit of dough. And the notion that a stranger could then come in, pretend to be us, and drain away the one worthwhile thing we’ve accumulated at jobs that drain away our lives …. Well, it’s not a very funny proposition.

So how do you make comedy out of it? “Identity Thief”’s answer is to double down and push the envelope. They make the victim super nice, the thief an embodiment of everything that’s awful in America, and throughout the victim gets further victimized while the thief gets away with almost everything. Ha! Get it?

Nice guy Sandy Patterson (Bateman), an even-tempered accountant in Denver, Col., with a pretty wife (Amanda Peet, wasted), two cute kids and another on the way, has his identity stolen by an overweight, binge-buying, heavy-drinking woman who lives in Florida and goes by the name of Diana (McCarthy). She spends the money to fill the void within her. So she buys $2,000-worth of free drinks for strangers at a bar so she can feel like she has friends. (Awww.) At the beauty parlor, pretty girls and gay men snicker at her obvious lies about a husband and a family. (Awww.) Then she buys fast food and stupid pink shit to fill the void again. Sandy’s doing the family budget on an Excel spreadsheet (they saved $14.03 last month), she’s buying Fiats with his dough, and we’re supposed to feel sorry for her. Because she’s awful, fat and friendless.

She’s also involved with … a drug dealer? Who sics the two best-looking gangsters ever (T.I. and Genesis Rodriguez) on Diana? Plus a bounty hunter (Robert Patrick, always in pursuit)?

By this point, Sandy, needing to clear his name to keep his new job, and getting no help at all from the Denver police, goes to Florida himself to extradite Diana. One thing leads to another and they wind up on the lam together. It’s “Due Date” but even more annoying and less funny. Yes, less funny.

How does Diana not have friends? Everyone within the film seems to find Diana sympathetic and Sandy a jerk when we know Sandy’s a nice guy and Diana is the worst person in the world. She schnookers everybody. She gets a waitress to give her free baby-back ribs and entices a recent widower back to her hotel room, where Sandy is further victimized. The joke is always on him, and he’s representative of us, so it’s never really funny. Or do the filmmakers think we identify with Melissa McCarthy’s Diana? That we’re fat and mean and lazy and feel sorry for ourselves and expect the world to feel sorry for us?

I mean … what the fuck?

Is Seth Gordon the worst director of comedies in Hollywood? He made the 2007 documentary “The King of Kong,” which was great. Since then, he’s directed three comedies: “Four Christmases,” with Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon, “Horrible Bosses,” with Jason Bateman and Jason Sudeikis, and this thing.

Should Craig Mazin stop writing altogether? He helped with “The Hangover Part II” and “Part III” (but not the first, better one), wrote and directed “Superhero Movie,” which couldn’t successfully satirize a movie genre begging to be satirized, and this thing. He’s a millionaire for writing this stuff.

Sometimes I think the people in Hollywood look at us and see this:

Identity Thief: Is This the Face of a Sucker?

“Identity Thief” grossed $134 million in the U.S. They’re right.

—July 9, 2013

© 2013 Erik Lundegaard

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