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'Identity Thief' fails to steal critics' hearts

February 08, 2013|By Oliver Gettell

After a breakout supporting role in the 2011 ensemble comedy "Bridesmaids" and an Emmy win for her work in the CBS sitcom "Mike & Molly" the same year, it was only a matter of time before Melissa McCarthy got to headline her own movie.

That movie is "Identity Thief," which stars Jason Bateman as a mild-mannered office drone and McCarthy as the volatile con artist who hijacks his credit cards and turns his life upside down. The film was written by Craig Mazin ("The Hangover Part II") and directed by Seth Gordon ("Horrible Bosses").

While a number of movie reviewers are acknowledging McCarthy's spirited performance and Bateman's everyman steadiness, most also contend that even two name stars can't make up for the problematic script and slack humor.

REVIEW: Review: Laughs stolen in 'Identity Thief'

Among one of the more positive reviews is from The Times' Betsy Sharkey, and it's not exactly glowing. Sharkey writes that the film "should be locked up for its crimes and misdemeanors against moviemaking," but adds that Bateman and McCarthy "steal so many laughs from such improbable places that the bumps in this revenge/road trip farce can be mostly forgiven, though not forgotten."

McCarthy "takes over the entire playground" with her antics, and Bateman "is the perfect foil," Sharkey says. "If not for their brilliance, 'Identity Thief' would be running on empty."

The New York Times' Manohla Dargis similarly calls "Identity Thief" a "lazy comedy" that "has no business being funny." It's not a total loss, though, because "as is the case with other unsatisfactory diversions, it is entirely possible to ignore the worst parts of this movie, to drift along during the lulls, slide over the half-baked jokes and just wait for Ms. McCarthy and Mr. Bateman to do their things." McCarthy in particular "owns the movie," Dargis writes, slipping "between the saucy and the demonic with exquisite effortlessness."

The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern finds less to like, describing the film as "the comedy equivalent of mud-wrestling without the mud." The script stretches a sitcom episode's worth of material into a full-length film, and "the organizing principle of this shambles is Pile It On—pile on the crotch jokes, car chases, car crashes, hot pursuits, torrid sex and literal snakes in the literal grass." As for McCarthy, Morgenstern says she "participates in everything but restraint."

Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post says "Identity Thief" is "a bummer," in short, and more precisely "a desultory collection of slapstick gags, buddy-movie cliches, chase-sequence bombast and wan topical humor." A "last-ditch attempt at humanizing McCarthy’s character" rings hollow as well.

In the San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle diagnoses the central problem like so: "The concept of one person stealing another's identity might be amusing in the abstract, but the minute you start filling in the details, it becomes the stuff of drama, not comedy." As a result, despite the promising pairing of McCarthy and Bateman, the film "is not only not funny. It's negative funny. It's short on laughs, but it will disturb and annoy."

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