Identity Thief (review)

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Identity Thief red light Melissa McCarthy Jason Bateman

I’m “biast” (pro): love the cast

I’m “biast” (con): hated the trailer

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

You know what’s a good way to keep the proles down? Distract ’em with silly stories that shift the blame for their troubles away from the real bastard perpetrators and onto some other poor schlub prole who’s almost as powerless. Keep us fighting one another, and we won’t fight them. Works every time.

To wit: Identity Thief. Which will happily try to convince you that the problem with the world today isn’t that we live in a financial police state in which our lives are ruled by credit scores maintained by secretive for-profit corporations, scores over which we have little control and can’t even see unless we fork over hard cash to their keepers (apart from the once-annual beneficence that feels like a “boon” left over from feudal times; be grateful, serf, that your lord and master allows you this small favor). No, the problem is the small-time grifter who has found a way to game the system the real bastard perpetrators set up. That grifter is your enemy, the Powers That Be would have you believe. Pay no attention to the Powers That Be behind the curtain.

There’s a bone-deep heartless cruelty to Identity Thief that it fails to even recognize… or perhaps it’s merely that it hopes you won’t recognize it. Kind, smart, sweet, hardworking Denver family man Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman: Paul, The Switch) learns that his identity has been stolen by a woman in Florida. Not because she has run up massive credit-card debt in his name, though he does learn that, via his credit card company. No: she skipped out on a court appearance that she earned while using the identity “Sandy Patterson,” which was only a drunk-and-disorderly and, seriously, that earns someone a nationwide APB? Meanwhile, the CEO of Citibank is still walking around a free man… Anyway, the Denver cops — who have swarmed over and arrested Sandy like he was Osama Bin Laden — tell him they can’t do a damn thing about this woman in Florida cuz it’s, like, Florida. Jurisdictions and such. (But they could arrest Sandy in Denver. Dafuq?)

Nonsense conspires to convince Sandy that the best way to reclaim his good credit standing — which he needs or else his boss is going to fire him, for reals, because who wants an accountant with a bad credit score — is to go to Florida and bring the fake lady “Sandy Patterson” (Melissa McCarthy: Bridesmaids, Life as We Know It) back to Denver to account for herself.

What follows is a lot of shit that is par for the course for Hollywood, which always takes the cheap, easy, derivative path when it can. Bateman and McCarthy are so fabulous in the overall, apart from this crap, and they, as actors and human beings, do not warrant the treatment they get here. His character’s manhood is denigrated over and over, because of his allegedly girlish name and just because he’s a gentle man and a gentleman; Identity Thief would suck mightily for that alone. (Note to Hollywood: Bateman is sexy. Because he’s cute and smart and funny. Stop acting like he isn’t.) Her character is portrayed as a cartoonish caricature of consumerism run amuck… until she’s suddenly supposed to be an authentic and sympathetic person. At the flip of a tonal switch, she goes from a sociopath who couldn’t care less about the people she’s been hurting (Sandy is not the first person whose identity she has stolen), to, what’s this?, the Oscar clip moment in which she explains, tearfully, why she’s been behaving so very badly. McCarthy is genuinely amazing in this scene, but it does not fit with the rest of the film, and all it says is that she needs a movie that will give her the opportunity she deserves to show off her talents. (Note to Hollywood. McCarthy is sexy. Because she’s gorgeous and smart and funny. Stop acting like she isn’t.)

The “comedy” here comes down to a lot of on-the-road stuff that Midnight Run did much, much better 20 years ago — Thief even throws in completely superfluous drug dealers and a bounty hunter chasing lady “Sandy,” all in an attempt, it would seem, to keep us from seeing the actual conflict inherent in the tyranny of the credit score. It’s like no one here realizes they’re living in the world of Brazil: “Information Transit got the wrong man. I got the right man. The wrong one was delivered to me as the right man, I accepted him on good faith as the right man. Was I wrong?” It’s all infuriating, not funny. It’s even more infuriating when, as Sandy is won over by the suddenly-not-sociopathic charms of his identity thief, he contemplates, with his wife (Amanda Peet: Gulliver’s Travels, 2012), simply letting the thief go, and not reclaiming his respectable credit score. “We’ll be all right,” Sandy tells his wife (I may be paraphrasing). But they won’t be all right. They’ll be fucked. Sandy will never get another decent job. They’ll never get the mortgage they want.

Identity Thief does not tell you what the upshot of Sandy’s antiquated nobility would be.

Universal Pictures, the corporate home of Identity Thief, is owned by General Electric*, which has, among its many holdings, divisions devoted to consumer finance, including consumer credit cards, auto loans, and mortgages, as well as debt consolidation.

These fuckers are profiting — mightily — from the tyranny of the credit score.

I say this merely for your information.

*Or was owned at least in part by GE until two days before this review was posted, when it became wholly a subsidiary of Comcast. But this film was produced under partial GE ownership.

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Matt Clayton
Thu, Mar 21, 2013 10:19pm

Not that I disagree with your review, but General Electric no longer owns Universal Pictures. It’s fully owned by Comcast now.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Matt Clayton
Thu, Mar 21, 2013 10:48pm

Comcast acquired the half of Universal from GE it didn’t own on, like, literally, this past Tuesday. So this film was still produced under GE influence.

Matt Clayton
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Fri, Mar 22, 2013 7:35pm


Okay, you win.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Matt Clayton
Sun, Mar 24, 2013 4:08pm

It’s not a contest. :->

Fri, Mar 22, 2013 12:56pm


Sun, Mar 24, 2013 2:18am

Trying to make us feel sympathy for her in the second half was so offensive to me. I’ve had friends who were screwed over royally by people like Diana. I didn’t feel sorry for her just because she told some sob story about her childhood. I had a crappy childhood too, I never screwed over some guy I didn’t even know.

Rod Ribeiro
Rod Ribeiro
Mon, Mar 25, 2013 4:04am

“McCarthy is sexy.”

You’re damn right, she is. Not planning to see this movie, but I hope anyway they had the decency to not include fat jokes this time.