At first glance, director Seth Gordon seems to have gone back to the formula that originally found him acclaim with his new comedy, Identity Thief. Much like his debut film, the equally riotous and heartfelt documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, the film is centered around a rivalry between an outspoken charismatic villain (there, video game legend Billy Mitchell; here, the titular criminal played by Melissa McCarthy) and their kindhearted opposite (substitute teacher/professional sad sack Steve Wiebe vs. accounts manager/professional doormat Jason Bateman). Unfortunately Gordon doesn’t take note of another facet that made his first film so enthralling - a full cast of unique and interesting characters that surround our two primaries, leaving Identity Thief as the cinematic equivalent of a clown sweating his way through a routine in a floor-to-ceiling beige room.
The premise is simple, but rife with comic potential: Straight-laced bank employee Sandy Patterson (Bateman) is tricked into giving personal information away to predatory Diana (McCarthy) and – through a set of plot contrivances straight out of a book entitled DYNAMIC SCREENWRITING CONFLICT REVEALED! – finds himself stuck with her on a road trip heading back home to clear his good name. And some early comedic sparks between the two (inspired physical comedy on a freeway bypass from McCarthy and a great scene of Bateman half-assing his way through a faux back story for a hotel clerk) suggest we might be in for a minor comedic delight.
But all wilts away in an arid second act filled with lifeless chase sequences sandwiched between scenes of characters arguing with one another, padding the runtime to interminable length. Subplots involving a bounty hunter played by a skuzzy Robert Patrick and a pair of hired killers played by Genesis Rodriguez and rapper T.I. literally go nowhere, made even less forgivable when considering not a single laugh or iota of tension is mined from their contributions, giving long stretches of the picture the feel of a lifeless TNT drama when it should be sailing along at a comedic breakneck pace. You will feel each of the film’s 112 minutes acutely as the plot wears on.
Which isn’t to say the film doesn’t offer minor pleasures: Bateman and McCarthy are two innately talented comedic performers with seemingly complementary skill sets, Bateman wielding his wilting sarcasm like a scimitar when provoked and McCarthy’s go-for-broke comedic sensibility allowing for insanely broad hijinx without sacrificing an audience connection due to her off-the-charts empathy. And the actors are so game they come admiringly close to making you care about their exploits long after the film’s sell-by date has past. But in the end, the filmmakers seem to have little to no interest in maintaining any semblance of reality (a daring escape from a police squad car punctuated by a startling bit of violence is all but ignored until a throwaway line in the film’s final minutes) so we as an audience find little reason to buy into their multiple entreaties toward sentiment as the movie winds down. With a better script and a supporting cast given the latitude to bring some humor to the proceedings, Bateman and McCarthy might’ve been able to spin this mess into something a bit more worthwhile.