Identity Thief

I haven’t liked something that was so fundamentally flawed since I was forced to back Hubert Humphrey for President in 1968.

Rating: While it is one of those films that can be seen on any screen, one of its admitted strengths comes from the ribald laughter you keep hearing from others in the theater. It may not be you, but who cares.

Identity ThiefIdentity Thief is a flamboyantly absurd film that treats idiocy like a human strength. It contains absurd sequences involving car chases, hit men/women and a killer bail bondsman. There are sporadic moments where you can do little more than simply shake your head.

On the other hand, as profoundly foolish as this film is, it is at times embarrassingly entertaining. Without question this is entirely due to the endearing talents of both Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy. He is as warm and vulnerable as she is venal, asocial and maliciously funny, and the two form an unlikely team that finds a way to entertain you along the way.

Mr. Bateman plays Sandy Patterson, a businessman in Denver fighting to support his pregnant wife and their two children. As he gambles on a new job with other disgruntled employees, he learns that he has been victimized through identify theft by some unknown scalawag in Florida. He finds himself massively in debt, not to mention named in an arrest warrant for failing to appear in Court.

For unexplainable reasons, the police, his wife (played with little energy by Amanda Peet) and his business associates allow him to travel alone to Florida to return with his nemesis. In the process, he links up with his target, a mean-spirited Ms. McCarthy. Overcoming her best punch, a vicious jab to the throat, she is eventually forced to accompany him on his journey to Colorado.

In the process, they are both being pursued by some vicious underworld figures who seek either to return her to jail or kill her. At this point I should note that I’ve just spent far more time describing their importance to the film than they merit.

What makes Identity Thief rise above its profound weaknesses is the gradual bond formed by Bateman and McCarthy. The film is further helped with a screamingly funny performance by Eric Stonestreet from TV’s “Modern Family”. Let me just say that it involves Ms.McCarthy’s drunken seduction of him in a cheap motel room while describing Bateman at length as an impotent husband who only wants to watch.

Mr. Bateman has been enjoyable both on TV and the big screen. All you have to do is use the term “Arrested Development” and you needn’t go any further. From a movie standpoint, take a look at his contribution to the following enjoyable films, beginning with Juno (2007); Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008); Up in the Air (2009); The Invention of Lying (2009) and the hysterical Horrible Bosses (2011).

Ms. McCarthy again proves that she is a diamond in the cinematic rough. Her performance in Bridesmaids (2011) remains a memorable classic, and her wildly hysterical performance in a small role in This Is 40 (2012) was the only thing that made that film watchable.

Recently, a well-known national film critic came under deserved criticism for referring to her as a “hippo”. His words were condemnable, and in the process he has lost any credibility as a reviewer. More to the point, Ms. McCarthy and Rebel Wilson (think of her as Fat Amy in Pitch Perfect) breathe life into the definition of feminism by any standard.

Think of the way women are seen today as both newscasters and weather forecasters on TV. From ESPN to Katie Couric, nearly all of the women you see on the screen either involve full body shots or with them sitting behind desks wearing short skirts, their legs crossed and wearing very high heels. Could the men behind most of television programming be doing little more than selling women on their physical allure?

I would love to see Ms. McCarthy and Fat Amy in that role.