I have decided to coin a new phrase to describe the kind of bland, humorless “comedy” Hollywood continues to churn out which has become the calling card of actors like Vince Vaughn, Kevin James and Jennifer Aniston. From now on, I shall describe these movies as “phantom comedies” because there is very little substance to them, no distinguishing qualities and the only time they should be seen is at 2:00 a.m. when you’re suffering from sleep deprivation. Also, these types of movies will be forgotten soon after they leave theaters as if they never existed in the first place.
The latest phantom comedy thrust upon moviegoers is Identity Thief from director Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses). The movie exists for the sole purpose of serving as a starring vehicle for the extremely versatile and hilarious Melissa McCarthy who is still riding the wave of her Oscar-nominated performance in Bridesmaids. I am a huge fan of McCarthy and am glad to see her talents being recognized after years of anonymity. It’s unfortunate, though, that her abilities as a comedic actor are being wasted in a movie such as this.
Both implausible and absurd, Identity Thief neglects its audience’s intelligence with a plot so asinine that I wouldn’t be surprised if a final script didn’t actually exist. Jason Bateman plays a doormat of an office drone named Sandy Bigelow Patterson who finds out his identity has been stolen by someone in Florida. The credit card bills are one thing, but outstanding warrants for his arrest threaten his new, well- paying job so Sandy decides to head to Florida to confront the woman using his identity and bring her back to Denver to clear his name.
The woman, Diana (McCarthy), is a highly efficient criminal. Her ruse for gaining unsuspecting victims’ personal information is flawless and she can create a fake ID and credit card in a matter of minutes. When Sandy finds her, she resists coming back to Denver with him until he manages to convince her that he can help her avoid jail time if she just tells his boss she is the one ruining his financial credibility. The two set off on the road together and, as to be expected, they have plenty of wacky and zany adventures along the way.
Perhaps most disappointing about Identity Thief is that it comes from the director of Horrible Bosses, one of the funniest movies of the last few years. In Bosses, Gordon took the audiences for a very dark yet cathartic ride as we watched three characters plot to exact revenge on the people making their lives miserable. For lack of a better word, Horrible Bosses had balls; Identity Thief barely has a pulse. The movie is almost entirely devoid of comedy save McCarthy’s terrific performance. As she did in Bridesmaids, she proves she is great at not just physical humor but line delivery as well. McCarthy’s style of comedy is reminiscent of Steve Martin’s early days in films like The Jerk and All of Me.
Jason Bateman has perfected the straight man character so it’s a shame watching him coast through yet another movie. Robert Patrick pops up as a backwoods bounty hunter who is after Diana and delivers some of the only genuinely funny moments not attributed to McCarthy. Genesis Rodriguez and rapper T.I. play the generic thugs who are sent to kill Diana because blah blah blah.
Identity Thief isn’t the worst phantom comedy in recent years (that honor belongs to Couples Retreat), but it is pretty awful nevertheless. Please, save your money and avoid this movie.