Identity Thief is "Bad Girls" by M.I.A. By coincidence or not, this same song is the last music cue in the trailer for upcoming Melissa McCarthy vehicle The Heat. I mention this because the idea that McCarthy has stumbled into a theme song for herself is quite a bit more interesting than anything else I could hope to discuss about Identity Thief; certainly more than the placement of "Bad Girls" on top of a montage of McCarthy's character using someone else's credit cards to go on a massively indulgent shopping spree.
Identity Thief is a bad movie. Worse still, it is a bad comedy; not just because it fails to be funny, but because it's failure comes out of such a miserable place. This is a bitterly unpleasant movie, and dark; it is a comedy perched on top of an immensely depressing concept, that a man who's so stretched-thin trying to make ends meet for his family that a $14 surplus in the monthly budget counts as a relief finds his credit, his savings, and his employment trashed after his identity stolen; and it is so little interested in who he is or what his economic suffering does to him that it doesn't even bother making jokes about it. Comedy can be and has been spun out of the travails of poor people dealing with being poor; but not when those travails are so suffocating and arbitrary, and the man experiencing them is so helpless. But Identity Thief doesn't even care about Sandy Patterson's (Jason Bateman) woes except as a motivating plot point; it is much more invested in gags suggesting that McCarthy's Diana is: a) fat; b) tacky; c) prone to ending up on the wrong side of life-threatening violence. One early scene is all about the wacky slapstick fight between Sandy and Diana, that ends with the button, clearly meant to be a big laugh, that Sandy hauls off and hits Diana in the face with a guitar hard enough that it knocks her flat. I know slapstick. This isn't slapstick. It's sheer cruelty, and the film very rarely rises above it.
Once, director Seth Gordon made a genial documentary, The King of Kong, about a nice man and a sort of crappy man squaring off; it's a pretty terrific movie and has a generosity of spirit that isn't at all saccharine. Everything he's done since - all fiction, it should be pointed out - has involved more or less unpleasant people, with a more or less unpleasant tone, presented without the wit to make the cynicism seem insightful and not just churlish. Still, the clumsy execution of a Horrible Bosses is light years ahead of Identity Thief, which is not only predicated on violence and economic rootlessness that would require an unbelievable firm hand to make it funny, but seemingly goes out of its way to avoid any type of unexpected blasts of creativity. Every joke is telegraphed from miles away, and some of the worst get privileged like a gag by Woody Allen at the height of his powers: did you notice that Sandy, a man, has a girl's name? Did you find it fucking hysterical? If the answer to that second question is anything other than, "Hell, I'm laughing at it right now", you need to stay away from Identity Thief.
At 112 minutes, the film is gruesomely padded and slow moving, and the stately, unforced march from one setpiece to the next give one plenty of time to sit and dwell on where the plot is headed to next, and perhaps feel extremely proud when one's predictions all turn out to be exactly correct. Not that Craig Mazin's script tries hard at all to disguise itself: when, at the end of her first big debauch, Diana is sternly told by a disgusted bartender, "These aren't your friends. You have no friends", one can almost hear the titanic clang as the movie announces that, by the end of the movie, Diana Will Find A Friend. And it makes it that much harder to tolerate the nasty, leering treatment doled out to and by her character when you suspect that somewhere around the two-thirds mark, the film is going to lurch into sentimentality in which people learn lessons and put aside their differences and make up for all the bad they've done. Spoiler alert: this happens.
In the meantime, spaced is filled with leadenly obvious jokes about kinky fat people sex and snakes in pants and being punched, hit by cars, trapped in a van as it rolls over several times, wearing a dead man's shoes,a and so on and so forth. I do not recall if there was a single gag that didn't clearly announce itself at least a full minute before occurring; since I do recall laughing a good dozen times throughout the movie (through I promise, I recall it only through a burning wall of shame), I'll assume there must have been.
I did, all the way in first paragraph, twice use the phrase "Melissa McCarthy vehicle", and that would be this film's silver lining: that a Melissa McCarthy vehicle is a thing that can happen. For McCarthy is an absolutely undeniable talent, and the more things she's in, and the more of them that make money, the better off for everybody. But oh, dear Lord, is it hard to watch her wasting herself in such a shallow, self-loathing role as Diana, the disgusting fat monster who has disgusting sex and is physically assaulted by everything in the world. It's even hard to watch Bateman stuck in his tiny, boxed-in little part, and that's after years of "Jason Bateman plays a tart-tongued straight man"* parts have largely dulled his post-Arrested Development career renaissance. Talented people deserve better than this shallow, predictable, pointlessly nasty exercise in prefabricated nonsense masquerading as a comedy; but not nearly as much as those of stuck watching it deserve better, too.