Sometimes a bit of good casting can go a long way for a movie. This week’s case in point happens to be the new dark comedy Identity Thief. With the help of stars Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, and a slew of hilarious supporting players, the film keeps chugging along. Thankfully, director Seth Gordon has managed to continue making up for Four Christmases with Identity Thief (his road to redemption also includes Horrible Bosses). The screenplay comes from “comedic mastermind” Craig Mazin (Rocketman; Senseless; Scary Movies 3 and 4; Superhero Movie; and his biggest offender, The Hangover Part II). And being released during February, the finished product is far better than you’d expect.
Sandy Patterson (Bateman) is living a double life of sorts. The life he knows consists of a job he loves, a boss he hates (Jon Favreau), and a family he loves even more. His wife Trish (Amanda Peet) is adoring, while their two daughters, Franny and Jessie (real-life sisters Mary-Charles and Maggie Elizabeth Jones), are adorable. The life Sandy doesn’t know about is being led by someone else. This second life is being led by a monster sociopath of a woman named Diana (McCarthy) in Florida, who steals his identity and racks up over $12,000 in credit card debt, gets arrested, skips out on bail, and brings all this attention to the real Sandy.
Back in Denver, Sandy has just been offered a vice president position at a new accounting firm by co-worker/friend Daniel (John Cho). But now the cops are looking for the real Sandy since his name is linked to a drugs and firearms investigation in Florida, where Diana is living the dream — on Sandy’s dime. Thanks to a mug shot, Detective Reilly (Morris Chestnut) knows that Sandy’s identity has been stolen, but can’t do anything until Diana commits a local offense. Sandy decides he’s going to get all this straightened out by heading to “the worst place in America” — Florida — to bring Diana back to fess up to her crime. Meanwhile, a couple of thugs, Julian (T.I.) and Marisol (Genesis Rodriguez), send Diana and Sandy on the run with a Skiptracer (Robert Patrick) hot on their trails as well.
Hilarity ensues, but the runtime almost starts to wear out the film’s welcome. The subplot involving Julian and Marisol’s imprisoned boss Paolo (Jonathan Banks) could be completely removed, or at least the scenes he’s in could be considering the story never goes anywhere and has absolutely no wrap-up. As I mentioned, the supporting characters are hilarious, but not the one’s you’d guess. Real life McCarthy hubby Ben Falcone shows up as a hotel clerk, Ellie Kemper pops in as a waitress with a heart of gold, Favreau is hilarious as a frontrunner to the upcoming Horrible Bosses 2, and Eric Stonestreet (loveable Cam on Modern Family) nearly steals the show as Big Chuck, a man who wants to do some really dirty things to Diana while Sandy watches.
Director Gordon keeps things in line better than most could have, and when the film is sticking to the funny (which is most of the runtime) it’s hysterical. It all makes me wonder if there was a hefty load of improv on the set of Identity Thief, and the major tonal issues with Hangover II are solely to blame on co-writers Scot Armstrong and Todd Phillips (who also directed that debacle). The only concern here is that when things get serious, they get downright maudlin. McCarthy has more than one moment where she looks like she’s hoping to thank the Academy someday. And goodness knows what is up with the whole Beetlejuice ending. Thankfully, Gordon knows we came to laugh, and on that level, Identity Thief has a pretty good comedy credit rating.
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