Let me start out by saying I hated Identity Thief. Okay; maybe I didn’t hate the film, because hate is such a strong word and there are things I enjoyed about it, but I certainly didn’t care for it as an R-rated studio comedy from the guy that made the disappointingly safe Horrible Bosses. I’m talking about director Seth Gordon. I don’t know how the man continues to attract talent like this and R-rated scripts that could be cashed in as gold in the hands of any other competent filmmaker.
What I do know is that had Seth Gordon been swapped out for someone that knows a thing or two about talent then perhaps I’d be writing a completely different piece on my experience with Identity Thief.
Identity Thief is an interesting movie to swallow, if only because there are two highly-talented leads that practically give it their all to a shoddy script and a gun-for-hire director. Jason Bateman and more importantly Melissa McCarthy not only provide their usual brand of comedic flavor, but they go as far as injecting the film with emotion. This is usually a tall order for comedic actors, because R-rated material like this is big on the raunch and profanity and not so worried about connecting the audience to a story that they might actually care about.
No. R-rated comedies like this just want you to laugh a couple of times and be on your way. They don’t care if you even like the film, because by the end of opening weekend the studios in charge would have already made their budget back and then it’s onto the next cheap concept.
But Identity Thief has two leads that are actually interested in the material and not afraid to explore it a bit more. The film is all about identity (shocker right?) and in Seth Gordon‘s hands that means focusing on the fat jokes and maybe quietly allowing Bateman and McCarthy to bring that theme to the surface. Once it’s on the surface they completely engage with it and attempt to make you sort of feel for both sides of the situation. I’m not even sure how these moments of the film got out, because tonally they’re barely relatable to the film Gordon’s trying to make.
How does a film like Identity Thief struggle so much with its comedy, yet excel whenever its two leads are on the screen and interacting with each other on a more personal level? I’ll tell you how. Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman. The two are so perfect for each other in the film. They’re past the point of gelling from a comedic level and on the level of knowing what each other’s characters are thinking before they even think it.
And you don’t question that at all. You accept it, because they go that extra step and give their relationship some grounds to work from and build upon. Melissa McCarthy has been already plagued with getting typecast as a performer because of her looks and style and it’s a damn shame. Identity Thief reminds us that she can make us laugh at the snap of her fingers, but it also shows us that she can carry her own emotionally too. Her character might appear to be another obnoxious one, but she’s actually got a lot of reason for that this time around.
Bateman can’t be given as much credit, because he too plays mostly the same characters in his films, but here it works just fine and fittingly, because McCarthy’s edge needs something safe to level off with.
And yet Seth Gordon still fails to make Identity Thief a good movie.
My intent for writing this article was to highlight just how great McCarthy and Bateman are, but to also point a finger at Seth Gordon for failing to translate that into a good film. One might argue that Identity Thief is a result of a poor script, but then what was the deal with Horrible Bosses? That film, which was also directed by Gordon, had yet another more than capable cast, yet he failed to make that one slide past first, despite Jennifer freakin’ Aniston playing one of her most memorable roles in recent comedy history.
Seth Gordon just can’t take a hint. He assembles these dream casts and then gets an approved budget for an R-rated comedy, which isn’t the easiest thing to come by these days, and at the end of the day he turns in a barely mediocre attempt at a laugh. There were jokes in Identity Thief that I actually enjoyed, but every single one of them was played down and focused too much on something else happening in the scene. McCarthy and Bateman drop a few memorable lines that a normal director would focus on and take advantage of, but Gordon instead shoots for a fat joke or a poke at Bateman’s character’s name? Really?
And because of Seth Gordon‘s direction Identity Thief is just another wasted film that actually had the components to be something special. The ingredients were all picked and thrown into the pot, but nobody bothered stirring or even adding a little bit of flour. As it sits Identity Thief is a cake that just didn’t rise, due to the lack of proper care from its director. And the worst thing about this is knowing that he’ll go on to make bigger movies with even more talented people.
The box office word is strong, saying that the film opened higher than previous hits like Bridesmaids and Gordon’s own Horrible Bosses, which means studios will continuing throwing money at him without second guessing him for a moment.
(Read Wilson’s review of the film right here.)