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Film Review: It's hard to laugh at this 'Identity Thief'

February 09, 2013|By Andy Klein
  • Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy in "Identity Thief."
Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy in "Identity… (Courtesy of Universal…)

In real life, there's nothing funny about identity theft, as anyone who's gone through it can attest. (Believe me, I learned the hard way.) Unfortunately, if the new comedy "Identity Thief" is anything to go by, there's nothing funny about it on screen either.

OK, not nothing funny. Let's be generous to director Seth Gordon and screenwriters Craig Mazin and Jerry Eeten and say there's not very much funny here. It's a film built around a simple log line: average nice guy must share a road trip with the resourceful sociopath who has destroyed his credit rating (and pretty much everything else in his life).

The basic notion — two people unwillingly on the road together are forced to get along, eventually realizing each other's worth and learning life lessons — is ancient. In movies, it goes back (at least) to Frank Capra's 1934 romantic comedy “It Happened One Night,” which spawned a number of cookie-cutter imitations. While initially showing strictly male-female pairs, the genre for the last few decades has shown up primarily as male-male films — call them “bromantic comedies.” (There's a doctoral dissertation to be written on why the culture created this gender switch.) “Rain Man” may be the most acclaimed, but the two best remain “Midnight Run” and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” (To his credit, producer/star Jason Bateman openly cites these two films as models.)

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Apparently “Identity Thief” was originally conceived in accordance with the predominant gender preference, but, following Melissa McCarthy's breakout success in “Bridesmaids,” someone had the very good idea to cast her as the thief. This significantly shifts the tone and some of the themes running throughout. For one thing, the opening really emphasizes Sandy Patterson's beautiful wife (Amanda Peet) and children, to minimize the chance of awkward romantic feelings between Sandy and Diana (McCarthy).

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