The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

February 18, 2013

Script for 'Identity Thief' presumed stolen

By Benji Tunnell
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — Every once in a while, talented actors are paired with a skilled director to create what's anticipated to be a successful comedy, but the mix just doesn't work.

Take, for instance, "Identity Thief." It stars Justin Bateman of "Arrested Development" fame (sure, he's done other stuff, but that's where it starts and stops for me) and Melissa McCarthy ("Bridesmaids"). Toss in director Seth Gordon, who made the documentary classic "The King of Kong," as well as the serviceable "Horrible Bosses," and one would expect hilarity.

But you can't make a decent movie without a good script, which is exactly what "Identity Thief" is lacking.

"Thief" follows Sandy Patterson (Bateman) as he has just accepted a new, much higher-paying position. On his way in to his first day at the new gig, his credit card is declined at the gas station, then he is arrested for missing a court date in Florida. Problem is, Sandy lives in Denver.

After a mug shot shows the offender to be a middle-aged, unattractive woman, Sandy is released. But the Denver police can't apprehend the identity thief until she is directly in front of them.

That leads to a convoluted idea in which Sandy will travel to Florida, convince the thief to come back to Colorado and tell Sandy's boss that she's the one who stole his identity, thus allowing police to arrest her and letting Sandy continue his upward mobility at the new job.

But wait: It seems that the thief, whom I will refer to as Florida Sandy, has also alienated a powerful drug kingpin by selling him bad credit card numbers, which is apparently what drug kingpins deal in. So, he sends two hapless hit people after her.

At the same time, a bounty hunter is sent after Florida Sandy as well, tasked with bringing her in to collect a $50,000 bounty, which seems a little excessive for someone who hasn't killed anyone or starred alongside Ashton Kutcher.

The failure of the movie rests almost entirely with the script. Written by Craig Mazin, of "Rocketman," "Senseless" and the "Scary Movie" franchise, the story is a moronic, drawn-out mess that asks viewers to suspend disbelief with the promise of outlandish behavior and hilarious jokes. Problem is, none of this is delivered upon, leaving the viewer to sift through nearly two hours of derivative, unfunny sludge.

The movie latches onto an idea that it thinks is funny, then just continues to repeat it, regardless of impact. Early on, it is established that Sandy is a girl's name. Then the movie goes back to variations of that same joke again and again.

Same with Florida Sandy's affinity for throat punching. And doing horrible renditions of once-popular songs. They weren't funny the first time around, and bringing them back makes them look even flatter.

Also holding the film back are the two subplots involving the hit men and the bounty hunter. It seems obvious that the story would not be enough to fill a feature length film and that filler would have to be added, but the two plots only drag down the momentum and pace of the film.

Another issue: Florida Sandy is just an all-around horrible person. She's a thief, she assaults people, she ruins lives. Yet, the movie feels the need to temper her, trying to humanize her and give justification to her awful behavior because of a bad childhood. It is a cop-out, and it is not credible at all.

I haven't even touched on the performances of the film, and I guess that is for the best for all involved. I really like Bateman, and he has done some stuff that I truly love, but his namby-pamby portrayal of Sandy renders him a weak and sad man. And McCarthy, who garnered an Oscar nomination in "Bridesmaids," seems only to be playing a variation of that character. Previews for her upcoming film "The Heat" show a character in the same vein, which leads me to believe that she may just be the female Vince Vaughn.