Sandy Bigelow Patterson is a lonely, duplicitous, shopaholic. The only thing louder than her garish blue eyeshadow is the drunken bray of her laugh. She purchases friendships with round after round of drinks and loses them as swiftly as the shots are downed – the moment her irrepressible personality breaks free. Half of Florida has made merry at Sandy’s expense, only Sandy isn’t Sandy and the real Sandy is about to pay a heavy price for her largesse…
Jason Bateman stars as Sandy, the former, and Melissa McCarthy as his namesake and nemesis. Bateman is clearly at home in Sandy’s well-polished shoes, having fun exploiting every moment of shock/horror as his rigidly controlled life is decimated. Identity Thief’s director Seth Gordon reunites with Bateman after their recent hit Horrible Bosses and, once again, appears to have allowed room for improvisation and creative licence to his lead. He does a fine job, within the limitations of his character, and is an amiable straight man and foil for his co-star’s outrageous antics.
With his dream job and upstanding reputation on the line, Sandy shrugs off any good guy instincts and sets out on a road trip to capture, transport and entrap the instrument of his undoing. Identity thief Diana comes along for the ride, after a fashion, kicking, throat-punching and escape attempts notwithstanding. She could do with getting out of the Florida sun – there has been a little confusion over some dodgy credit cards she flogged to a rather dangerous man and one or two of his associates would care to have a word. For perhaps the first time in her life, Diana is a very popular lady.
I deeply dislike slapstick in contemporary comedy. It is an art that died out long ago. But Melissa McCarthy is a fearless and talented physical comedienne, an irresistibly bawdy Lucille Ball. The material she has to work with regularly veers towards puerile and the script contains more cheese than a family pack of Cathedral City yet she still delivers an endearing performance. She and Bateman share a likeability which helps to transcend many of the more eye-rollingly stupid moments. Although Lucille Ball herself would have struggled to stomp humour from their whacky snake encounter in the woods.
A trio of bad guys pursue the Sandys for much of the films runtime. T.I and Genesis Rodriguez portray lethal henchmen sent to collect a blood debt for the bad cards Diana sold their boss and Terminator Robert Patrick a bounty hunter with the redhead in his crosshairs. T.I and Ms Rodriguez make perfectly competent baddies but are frankly a little surplus to requirement once Robert Patrick side-slams his way onscreen. Patrick is bearded, mad as a brush and dogged in his quest – The Walking Dead’s Daryl with a day job and fewer zombie encounters.
Identity Thief is not a clever film and the plot is a tangled mess. It lacks originality and the end is almost unbearable in its sickly sweetness. It seesaws between bathos and pathos with dizzying frequency and contains some Razzie-worthy dialogue but…I really liked it. I didn’t expect to and I couldn’t believe it tickled me as thoroughly as it did.
Laugh-out-loud funny has become a tiresome expression yet sometimes trite remains true and, in the case of Identity Thief, it is the only shoe that truly fits. I left the screening still smiling and I was not the only one. It undeniably owes an enormous debt of gratitude to Planes, Trains and Automobiles but the imitation is of the most affectionate kind and the film does not suffer for its familiarity. In any other hands it would have been a disaster but great leads and a snappy pace make this a good choice for easy chuckles.