Poor Jason Bateman. Nothing good ever happens to him. He doesn’t get to be Seth Rogen dishing out one liners. His form of comedy involves being the average guy taking abuse––punches, stomps, bites, and the rest of it. No one takes a kick to the groin quite like Jason Bateman. He’s a little like a modern Jack Lemmon, the normal man beset by his circumstances.
In “Identity Thief “––aside from the obvious theft of his identity––he suffers throat punches, kicks to the parts, car crashes, a snakebite, and a wardrobe switch to a dead hobo’s clothes. His abuser/conedy partner is Melissa McCarthy, the uncouth comedienne that made her mark in “Bridesmaids,” as an identity thief with a nasty disposition. She is something of a female Zach Galifianakis, too oblivious to realize the damage they’re doing to the other person.
“Identity Thief” points to the strengths and drawbacks of watching a lot of movies. Not that the film is challenging “It Happened One Night,” but it does have the sensibility of the long list of road comedies that spring from that well. While McCarthy never stops a car with a flash of her hefty leg (which, by the way, would have been funny), the film does have a humorous diversion through the woods scene. I admire the way that “Identity Thief” gets a lot of mileage out of a very basic premise.
Unfortunately “Thief” has a habit of “watching too many bad movies” as well, the ones with the contrived plot points, the need for precisely-scheduled gags, and endings of unlikely redemption. In movies, there seems to be no photographs of children that won’t turn a hardened criminal’s heart to mud. on top of that, too many stock characters and situations drop in. There is no wisdom of the ages to the foolish drug-dealing angle, dropped in so that there could be wacky gunplay. This leads to a poor climactic car chase that leads to a poorer ending.
That said, it takes a lot of good comedy to get there, such as the less-than-light-on-her-feet McCarthy trying to make a run for it on the highway, successfully escaping for about thirty yards. And McCarthy giving the reassuring the traditional ”your husband was a perfect gentleman out on the road” speech to Bateman’s wife, played by Amanda Peet, is a hilarious takedown of an overused cliché.
The final verdict is that the interplay of its stars, smartly the focus of the film, works more than it doesn’t. It’s nothing more than a typical offseason diversion. But at least it’s a somewhat funny typical offseason diversion.