Identity Thief (2013) – Directed by Seth Gordon – Starring Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Robert Patrick, John Cho, Jon Favreau, Amanda Peet, Genesis Rodríguez, T.I., Morris Chestnut, Eric Stonestreet, and Maggie Elizabeth Jones.
It was an afternoon of pleasant surprises: the weather was nicer than I thought it would be, IDENTITY THIEF is funnier than I thought it would be, and when I turned my iPhone back on after the movie, all of my contacts were mysteriously erased.
Okay, so that last one isn’t a pleasant surprise, but I was able to take Darwin for a long walk this morning before the movie and I was constantly amused by IDENTITY THIEF throughout the film. The film contains a handful of laugh out loud moments and if you like Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy (as I do), then there’s no reason you won’t like IDENTITY THIEF.
Directed by Seth Gordon (who directed the excellent documentary The King of Kong and the very funny Horrible Bosses), THIEF is a standard anti-buddy road comedy. Diana (McCarthy) is the titular identity thief, and when she steals the identity of Sandy Bigelow Patterson (Bateman), he takes the law into his own hands and flies from Colorado to Florida in order to bring her back to Denver to put everything right and allow him to keep his new job.
When Patterson gets to Florida he quickly finds Diana, but then criminals Marisol and Julian (Genesis Rodríguez and T.I.) show up for retribution for bad deeds Diana has enacted on them, and a bounty hunter (Robert Patrick) joins the mix, adding a small element of a chase film into the mix.
The focus is on Bateman and McCarthy, though, and the success of the film is thanks to their interaction. Sandy is the do-gooder and Diana is the shady con artist and the film does an excellent job both playing their differences off one another and then showing them growing together. THIEF is running the same ground as a film like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, in that these two characters are definitely not pals at the start of the film but come to truly like one another as the story unfolds. Sandy is a nice guy but he’s not a total schlub who lets the world walk all over him. He’s understandably upset at Diana and doesn’t let her forget it for a good long while.
Critically, it’s Diana who first acts on his behalf. In a very funny sequence where Diana spins a lie at a bar to Big Chuck (Eric Stonestreet) about how Sandy likes to watch her with other men, Sandy ends up locking himself in the bathroom as Diana and Chuck have sex. It’s funny but there’s a really deep undertone to the scene – Diana’s actions are motivated by her own loneliness. We see this at the beginning of the movie when a bartender tells her no one in the bar actually likes her, they just like buying her drinks, and it runs through the movie until Diana comes clean about her origins of being abandoned by her parents and running through multiple foster homes. Here in the hotel room, once Sandy shuts himself in the bathroom, Diana intends to drug Chuck and abscond with Chuck and Sandy’s wallets and valuables. Instead of drugging Chuck, however, she ends up being moved by his story of not having been with anyone since his wife (she initially thinks he’s rejecting her, with gives the scene some gravitas), and decides to have sex with him.
McCarthy does a fantastic job here balancing Diana’s cons with her real emotions and I’m often left momentarily wondering whether we’re seeing the real Diana or the fake Diana. While she’s moved enough to have sex with Chuck, she has not undergone the full conversion, yet, as after he passes out she locks Sandy in the bathroom, takes Chuck and Sandy’s stuff, and leaves. When she hits the car, however, a phone call from Sandy’s family catches her off guard. She looks at the photo of his kids and has a change of heart. She returns to the room just as Sandy breaks the door down, and she tells him she was just out checking on the ice, and then crawls pathetically into bed.
Now that Diana has earned some sympathy points with the viewers, the film then immediately allows Sandy to have both a jerk and redemption moment. At checkout the next morning, he’s on edge and engages in a really funny exchange with a bored clerk. (“Did you enjoy your stay?” “No.”) A hungover Diana has asked him to get her some Strawberry Quik. Sandy asks the clerk if they have any and she says yes, but he doesn’t buy her any. When he’s getting himself some coffee, however, Robert Patrick kidnaps her and Sandy is quick to run after them. Now, yes, he needs her to get his good name back, but as she rightly points out later, he calls her his friend during his verbal exchange with Patrick, and his actions seem to be partially motivated out of genuine concern.
Sandy ends up crashing Patrick’s van and after he pulls Diana from the wreckage, there’s a small back and forthe between the two of them. I can’t remember exactly what was said, but what I do remember is that it was both quickly the exchange transpired and how none of it was all that important. It was a genuine exchange, though, that felt very conversational and real, and not just a set-up and punch line. I like that – Sandy and Diana are well-rounded characters, and maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but in comedies now I’m much more interested in movies with good characters in a good story that’s amusing than I am in watching a film that is constantly going for the quick hit-and-run jokefest approach.
The ending of IDENTITY THIEF is really something fantastic, and had me leaving the theater feeling up. From the moment Sandy takes Diana to his house and through to Sandy’s family visiting Diana in jail, the film has an almost perfect mix of being funny, touching, and even a little sad. The resolution of Diana going to jail, but Sandy and his family visiting her hit a perfect note, and the funniest line of the movie (the title of this review) comes right at the end.
IDENTITY THIEF isn’t quite as funny as either of Bateman or McCarthy’s best efforts, but it is a really good film. I only went to see it because I was in the mood for some popcorn, but I had a smile on my face from start to finish.