Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Identity Thief

The true identity of the misbegotten, woefully familiar Identity Thief can be scavenged through the pits of the countless formula-based, high concept, comic-action hybrids, all of which grace the silver screen with the same pre-packaged, market-tested bland sheen.  Presented as a novel concept, pitched to our post-recession paranoia and filtered through the naughty, but secretly sweet stew that comprise contemporary R-rated comedies, Identity Thief is perked by the presence of game playing leading players thoroughly capable of more.  Add in some needless violence and a few too many half-baked subplots and viola-- the ingredients for a successful comedy filmmaking venture.  All this being said, Identity Thief, a junky, high calorie derivative was, naturally, bound for the opening weekend riches it received.  It's a shame, naturally, that the film is just another cog in the assembly line of tired and listless movies that, even within the grace of good natured tomfoolery and waning attention spans, grows into a grating, irritating production as it prods to a silly and manufactured happy conclusion.  Directed with the spark of a by-the-numbers sitcom by Seth Gordon, he of Horrible Bosses and Four Christmases fame, and written as a series of interminable ab-libs by Craig Mazin, there's but one saving grace to the nearly identity-less Identity Thief and by extension the suckered audience.  That is the presence of Melissa McCarthy, who is a performance of sheer conviction and endless energy, strives to bobby-pin the shackles of lazy, formulaic comedy.

As with Bridesmaids, for which the inventive, to the rafters comedienne earned an Academy Award nomination for, McCarthy proves an invaluable resource for providing new shadings to bare-boned characters that in many regards are simply there for lowest common denominator pratfalls.  Her off-kilter line readings segue the normal rat-a-tat mechanics of mainstream jokes and her expression, weirdly and wildly out there bent of physical and economical comedy generously offers an outlet to laugh at the overweight woman because she is allowing out, and in full control of her massive comedic gifts.  Her intuitive, will-do-anything-for-a-laugh is the best asset to the murky and distracted Identity Thief in that she steals everything but the camera itself and throws everything into it.  It's unfortunate the filmmakers don't particularly pay too much attention to her comedic gifts, instead relegating her character into an ugly specimen of cheap jokes.  However, and not for nothing despite the nonsense that hinges the loosely-petered out sequences that ultimately culminate this film, McCarthy does at the very least, try to stitch together a portrait of a woman trying for nil to be the life of the party, the hostess with the mostess so to speak, belying a more somber, sensitive piece of the puzzle as a character forever an outsider, outcast and judged before anything else by appearance.

That, and well, she's a criminal.  She steals other peoples identities and maxes out her preys respective income by indulging on endless shopping sprees, personal pampering and buying scads of interlopers drinks at neighboring bars.  But, aside from that, McCarthy literally throws herself into her comedy, and for our entertainment, she gets hit by a car, wrestled, tackled, engages in a sex sequence that might make John Waters blush and speaks with the unrefined sailor trash mouth that should finally put to shame the ridiculous argument of the sexes over who can out raunch whom.  Her latest victim is Jason Bateman's corporate middle-man named Sandy Bigelow-Patterson, yet another in the actors canon of stoic straight men, aghast by the craziness that surrounds him; Bateman himself looks a bit tired that the one-joke of his girlish name is endlessly prodded as a punchline.  Something that can be said, and by however you look at it may be seen as a victory of sorts of sexual gender politics in mainstream comedies, is that the first meeting of McCarthy and Bateman is staged as a bare knuckled brawl where the two go at it like cats in a bag.  She teases him for hitting like a girl and he, graciously, beats her with a guitar-- it's a awkward scene, all madcap and klutzy, but there's a small sense of spark when the two combatants are beating the hell out of one another in a blatant disregard for gender roles.

The film becomes a degeneration of the action buddy picture as the two are saddled into a by-the-numbers road movie, built up around the bare threads of plot convention, and the cinematic standard of unlikely friendship.  This isn't helped by the utter half-assed periphery players that add to the proceedings, and add even more filler to an overlong picture in it of it's self.  McCarthy's Sandy or Diana, or endless stream of aliases, is not just stuck with Bateman's bore in an effort to clear his good name, but is also on the lam for pissing off some thugs (rapper T.I. makes a self-referential appearance as one of the goons.)  That's not enough for Identity Thief-- there's an added stroke of a bounty hunter chasing her as well, and played with a self-seriousness that belongs in another movie, by Robert Patrick.  What the filmmakers loose sight of is the goofy and out there one woman show that McCarthy has created, and even while the filmmakers jarringly make the point of turning her into a novelty act built around a stream of ugliness, McCarthy owns the big hair and blousy strides of her characters, adding lines and layers to which certainly wouldn't have existed otherwise, even selling her character's sad tale saga when the violins start to blare, as well as the obligatory makeover scene.  It's all unwarranted as audience sympathy was already clearly on her side as Identity Thief's only persuasive argument confirms the appreciation of her presence.

It's unfortunate that all the middling and tinkering and needless stuff comes in the way.  Speaking of which, and more a reflection of the times and styles of R-rated comedies of today than anything more, Identity Thief, which in convention strikes as a nothing more or less than a cable-television ready afterthought, has more billowing nonsense than even it's formula could have deemed fit.  Violent in an off-putting, unnecessary way and vulgar, seemingly just for the hell of it.  It speaks to a broader problem in the convention of studio comedies-- that more is more approach, when the sharpest, most astute moments of Identity Thief, as infrequent as they come, are the solemn bits of a lone comedienne going for broke.  D+

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