Stealing the Show

By Carl Kozlowski

Posted February 7, 2013 in Film

Force of nature teams up with Jason Bateman to create comedy classic Identity Thief

Two years ago, Melissa McCarthy hit the big screen in Bridesmaids, unleashing a performance that was so boldly original that she became an instant superstar. Overweight, yet extremely energetic, McCarthy knocked every possible inhibition out of the way, pushing the envelope of acceptable behavior perhaps further than any woman in film history while calibrating her performance to pull off a rare Oscar nomination for a comedic role.

In the new movie Identity Thief, McCarthy, here perfectly paired with Jason Bateman, works with a great script and ace direction by Seth Gordon (Four Christmases, Horrible Bosses) to prove she’s no fluke, nearly stealing this show as well.

Bateman plays Sandy Patterson, a happily married man who’s also a perfect father and ace accountant for the Denver office of a mega-corporation. When he receives a phone call claiming to be a company trying to alert him that his credit cards are being abused, this trusting prince of a guy foolishly gives up his name, birth date and Social Security number to the “helpful” operator on the other end of the line.

That caller is indeed an operator, but she’s really running identity scams, not a phone service. And when she latches onto Sandy’s key identification points, she racks up more than $12,000 in charges on his accounts in less than 24 hours while also giving his name up to police after being arrested in a bar brawl.

The real Sandy is in Denver while the fake Sandy—who says her real name is Diane—is in Florida. But her expert evisceration of his credit information leads quickly to him getting arrested, having the office at his new job inspected in a drug raid and being threatened with the loss of his position.

Sandy learns that a series of legal loopholes means that the Denver police can’t easily round up Diane for arrest, and that clearing his record of the ill-used credit charges could take up to a year without a confession from Diane. So the normally mild-mannered everyman decides to break out of his comfortable middle-class rut and go find her himself, not realizing that his plan will result in his having to flee with Diane from two assassins, a bounty hunter and an assortment of law enforcement officials who are all out to take her down.

Even after writer Craig Mazin’s impeccably crafted first half-hour sets all that up, I kept waiting for him to drop the numerous balls that the screenplay juggles. But Identity Thief manages to combine being a terrific buddy film, a wild road comedy and a surprisingly touching yet never sappy character comedy without one false move in its surprisingly complicated plot.

Even more refreshing is that this ace team of actors and filmmakers also walk the tightrope of taste with precision. It’s rare to find a comedy for adults these days that doesn’t feel forced, aiming to be as raunchy as possible to hit “hard-R” status and draw in young males while offending nearly everyone else, or that softens things up and dumbs down details in order to draw in families with PG or PG-13 status.

Thief gets crazy when it needs to be, with enough foul language to earn a film an R, but used judiciously enough to add to the humor without being pointlessly lazy or offensive. It also has a wild sex scene (not between the stars, but I won’t give it away) that is outrageous, yet leaves nearly everything to the imagination, with only the actors’ faces shown, while still packing a comic punch that left the audience I saw it with in gasp-inducing hysterics.

Best of all, despite all its wackiness, Identity Thief has genuine heart. I worship at the altar of the late great filmmaker John Hughes, but this film nails the mismatched-buddy road-trip comedy so well that it earns a spot as the best film of the genre since Hughes’ classic Planes, Trains & Automobiles.


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