Identity Thief or Arrested Embezzlement

Ash Isaac

Russell Brand once said of Bob Geldof that it was no wonder he knew so much on famine: he’d been dining out on ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ since the eighties. You could argue that Jason Bateman has been surviving on a similar diet since his Arrested Development days, popping up in one uninspired comedy after another. Maybe in Identity Thief he has found a vehicle to replicate the easygoing charm and laughs of Michael Bluth? Er…no.

Melissa McCarthy stars as the titular identity thief, Diana, who makes a living from impersonating unsuspecting members of the public and using their identities to help fund her frankly oddball lifestyle. Bateman settles into his now typecast role as everyman Sandy Patterson, a middle management sadsack long on integrity and short on street smarts. When he unwittingly divulges his personal details to professional fraudster Diana, he sets in motion a chaotic chain of events that sets him on an inevitable collision course with the woman who has been cheerfully racking up both debts and criminal charges in his name.

Sandy only realises that something is awry when he is informed by his new boss that he has failed his credit checks and then arrested by police for failing to answer bail. This then prompts his boss to fire him and with the police showing little to no interest in helping Sandy out of his plight he decides to take matters into his own hands. In true frontiersman style, he takes the initiative and decides to not only track down the corpulent shyster who has stolen his identity, reputation and job, but to bring her to justice himself.

Sandy packs his bags, puts together his homemade criminal apprehension kit, kisses the wife and kids goodbye before hightailing it to Florida where he manages to track down Diana. Hilarity ensues! Well, not really, as Sandy and Diana are coralled through a procession of tedious set pieces each less funny than the last. In fact, it’s hard to imagine the makers of the film actually thought they had cobbled together enough material to stretch to a running time of almost two hours.

After collaring Diane, Sandy finds himself pursued by the Mexican mob, a grizzled bounty hunter, venomous snakes and the police all while fielding calls from his anxious wife back home. It’s enough to send any tame salaryman over the edge, but Sandy swallows his morals, ethics and every last ounce of pride in his quest to put everything back to the way it was before Diana’s nefarious intervention.

Diana and Sandy forge an uneasy alliance as they make the trek from Florida to Colorado, but gradually their relationship thaws out and they develop a grudging sense of amity, bonding over their shared fear of the murderous criminals hot on their heels. Eventually, Diana persuades Sandy that the only way out of their predicament is to commit even more identity fraud proving once again that two wrongs invariably make a right.

And, of course, in the end it turns out that Diane is just a sad, lonely, rather pathetic individual yearning for human interaction who has just turned to crime as a cry for help rather than because she loves splurging on designer goods with other people’s money. Diana ends up spending time with Sandy’s family and finally comes to understand the damage she has caused. She turns herself in thus absolving Sandy of blame for anything he has done. Ever. The epilogue shows Sandy visiting Diana in prison as she studies to gain a degree in being a decent human being. Awww.

Identity Thief is almost like a poor imitation of Planes, Trains & Automobiles for the 21st Century except McCarthy and Bateman are no match for Candy and Martin. It goes down the well worn route of a mismatched comedy pairing: the uptight, straight laced patsy and the crafty but loveable rogue. Think Laurel and Hardy, Martin and Lewis, Timon and Pumbaa except, despite their best efforts, Bateman and McCarthy fall well short of those hallowed duos. One can only hope that watching this film back Jason Bateman borrowed a line from his erstwhile fictional brother, GOB, and commented: “I’ve made a huge mistake”.

About Ash Isaac

I am a contributor of questionable taste, origin and talent. My one claim to fame is that I was born in the same hospital as Cliff Richard. I am still in possession of my soul unlike Sir Cliff who sold his to Samael the Desolate in return for eternal youth and the friendship of Sue Barker.