The most remarkable thing about Identity Thief is how a movie this dumb could keep insulting its audience’s intelligence. Aside from being a comedy with no laughs, screenwriter Craig Mazin rests almost his entire plot on coincidences, and one-dimensional characters. The comic talents of stars Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy are absolutely wasted on a limp road movie that gets lazier and more tiresome with every passing moment. The best joke the film can conjure is a punch to the throat, which would almost be preferable to sitting through this chore of a picture.
Sandy (Bateman) is a good guy whose identity gets stolen by Diana (McCarthy) after she tricks him into giving up his important information over the phone. She then proceeds to go on a shopping spree of epic proportions while Sandy’s life falls apart in ways that are believable (he can’t pay his bills) to idiotic (being accused of crimes committed by Diana even though in the age of modern technology, cops usually check mugshots before wasting time arresting people). In a bargain that is never entirely clear, Sandy offers to go from Denver to Florida, retrieve Diana, bring her back, and present her to the cops. While at first she tries to run, Diana eventually decides to stick with Sandy for contrived reasons like being tracked down by a couple of gang members (Genesis Rodriguez and T.I.), and developing sympathy for the guy she swindled.
Identity Thief never has the courage of its convictions, and really doesn’t have many convictions at all. Rather than stick to the nastiness of Diana’s atrocious, sociopathic behavior, we have to learn that deep down she’s a big softy, and that Sandy, whose life has been ruined, is compassionate enough to forgive her. These characters are so far apart at the beginning that we’re left to believe a wacky road trip full of slapstick and forced bonding is going to mend the fence. A more believable conclusion is that one would kill the other in their sleep.
Even if you’re going to reach a point of forced reconciliation, you still have to jump over the hurdles of 1) A guy with a stolen identity can rent a car even though he can’t even use his credit card to buy gas; 2) Diana is flushed with cash, and could get away on her own, but she thinks teaming up with the mild-mannered Sandy is a better plan; 3) The gang members and a bounty hunter (Robert Patrick) can always locate Sandy and Diana because of “lo-jack” even though they switch vehicles throughout the film; 4) Sandy’s scruples run out when the going gets tough, so I guess we should feel compassion for the ridiculously greedy Diana.
And these are the just the overall problems. Throughout the movie, there’s nothing but coincidences to keep the plot moving. At one point, Sandy and Diana run into the gang members by getting on the same elevator even though the gangsters had no idea where Sandy and Diana were staying, what floor they would be on, and what elevator they would board. Earlier in the film, we’re asked to accept that Diana could survive a massive car wreck with only a minor nosebleed even though she’s not wearing a seatbelt. There’s also a moment where Sandy whines about the lack of collision coverage on his rental car even though he’s already messed up the vehicle when it went flying off a dirt ramp. We’re on a trip with moronic cartoons being chased by psychics, and then we’re asked to feel for our main characters like they were real people.
Here’s the entire relationship between Sandy and Diana up until the maudlin ending: Diana is obnoxious and Sandy is annoyed. It’s a comic pairing that’s been around for decades, but rarely has it come off as so utterly grating. Usually, the oaf in the situation is good-natured but oblivious, and the straight-man is tightly wound. But because Diana is a horrible human being with an idiotic screenwriter’s attempt at a sympathetic core, we feel no camaraderie between the mismatched pair. We’re not interested in their relationship because it feels as phony as the conflict.
The comedy is just as weak as the plotting. It’s one thing to keep having Diana punch people in the throat and that person recovers quickly. It’s slapstick that the film beats into the ground, but we accept it. But many jokes come at the expense of McCarthy’s weight because fat jokes are the refuge of the soulless and the creatively bankrupt. Then again, it’s not too surprising when the joke about Sandy’s unisexual name is considered worthy of a running joke. Someone looked at this script and thought, “His name is Sandy? That’s almost a girl’s name! That’s so funny! LET’S KEEP MAKING THIS JOKE.”
If I walked out of movies, I would have walked out of Identity Thief. It doesn’t have a shred of respect for its audience to the point where I felt a character was going to turn directly to the camera and say, “We have your money so just stuff your stupid face with popcorn. Look: fat lady fell down again har har har.” Identity Thief does have a message albeit an unintentional one: If you dehumanize others, it’s okay to take advantage of them. Like Diana sees Sandy, this movie thinks we’re stupid, so we deserved to be robbed.