Natalie Stendall film review: Identity thief has cheap laughs but lacks substance

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In this outrageous road trip comedy from Horrible Bosses director, Seth Gordon, sensible businessman Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) has his identity stolen by loud and gutsy Diana (Melissa McCarthy).

When his job in the financial sector is brought under threat by swelling credit card debts, Sandy travels across America to bring the thief to justice.

Identity Thief is principally carried by the comic talents of Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids, This Is Forty) whose ability to deliver irresistibly funny improvised dialogue rarely wanes. Despite Diana’s instantly loathsome character, there are plenty of hints early on that there’s more to her abhorrent personality than meets the eye. McCarthy charges her role with vulnerability, tempering an abundance of brash and frequently vulgar comedy. What results are some surprising, if sentimental, moments in this largely unsophisticated comedy.

As Sandy, Jason Bateman gives us a predictably straight-faced bore whose levelheaded desire to preserve ordinary family life is unoriginal and borderline dull. As Sandy and his colleagues languish beneath the big bosses who happily pay themselves hefty bonuses, Identity Thief rakes over old ground and feels a little out of time. Yet Sandy’s chilly determination and relatable plight stands in striking contrast to Identity Thief’s myriad of cliche and silly characters - including a hit-man and a narcotics gang - who are also in hot pursuit of Diana. Whether Identity Thief aims to be laugh out loud silly or suffused with witty commentary is anyone’s guess.

Craig Mazin’s (Scary Movie 3 and 4, The Hangover II) bonkers screenplay certainly suggests the former. Plagued with ridiculous scenarios and outrageous near deaths, from which characters escape completely unscathed, it’s an approach that provides plenty of cheap, but forgettable, laughs.

Yet Mazin’s chosen subject matter should be ripe for perceptive comedy especially given the film’s added emphasis upon a struggling financial sector. For all the grave implications of identity theft raised at the film’s outset, it is curious that the film eventually lands on the message that its ok to steal from those who deserve it. It’s a twist that lacks enough Robin Hood sentiment to make it palatable and, instead, leaves Identity Thief meaningless and empty.

This vacuous road trip comedy survives on a decent spattering of cheap laughs while pretending to be much more. Ultimately rescued by Melissa McCarthy’s unrelenting energy and sheer comic talent, Identity Thief supplies fleeting entertainment but lacks enough substance to go the distance.

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 111 minutes

Verdict: 2/5