With its flabby runtime, redundant set-pieces and ersatz moralising, Identity Thief (2013) is a précis of the current dire state of US studio comedy. The success of the few has become the curse of the many; for every Bridesmaids (2011), there are a dozen like Identity Thief. Seth Gordon’s follow-up to Horrible Bosses (2011) has already taken over $100 million in the US despite a hostile critical reception. The film overestimates the ability of Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman (both skilled comic performers) to overcome a flat, laugh-free script which ultimately lacks the courage to make the most of its sub-Midnight Run set-up.
McCarthy plays Diana, a woman living the high life in Miami on money stolen through identity theft. Her spending spree comes to a crashing halt when she steals the identity of Sandy Patterson (Bateman), an accountant living halfway across the country. Following a clumsily contrived turn of events, Sandy has a week to hunt Dawn down and drive her 2,000 miles back to his hometown of Denver to face justice and clear his name. Various high-jinks inevitably ensue along the way.
Gordon’s Identity Thief is awash with a hackneyed and horribly mawkish type of moralising. It’s as if studios have voluntarily adopted a new skewed iteration of the Hays Production Code for its comedies, whereby it’s acceptable to be as horribly chauvinistic, homophobic and debauched as you like, provided it’s offset in the end by patronising wholesomeness and sickening family values screeds which negate all the offensive behaviour which preceded. With this in mind, Dawn could never be a true criminal and the film concocts a jaw-droppingly trite explanation for her identity thefts, but only after it’s shown her swearing, fighting and sleeping her way through her ill-gotten gains of course.
The predetermined moral course of the film means that everything in Identity Thief feels cynically constructed; from the inordinate set-pieces to the laboured cameos. For a film so painfully calculated, it flits aimlessly between sub-genres, from buddy film to recession satire to white-collar revenge story, failing miserably at every single step. Identity Thief is emblematic of the blind faith studios have in funny performers; by overvaluing the contribution of improvisation, brilliant comedians are too often saddled with lazy, lumbering ‘star vehicles’ like this.