Somewhere in Identity Thief’s script lies the germ of a good idea for a film about social mobility and its emotional connection to acceptance, but its characters are written with so much contempt that the idea gets quickly lost. Practically incapable of making friends, Melissa McCarthy’s Diana is presented as a loathsome gross-out criminal, a conwoman written purely to be ridiculed. Her physical appearance is made as ugly as her personality, though it’s less her bright-red mess of curls, overdone makeup, and clashing-print outfits that peg her as disagreeable. It’s her body that’s objectified as a source of humor, most prominently by operating as a punching bag, because apparently there’s nothing funnier than an overweight lady being knocked down or injured. Or nothing less sexy than a raunchy, overweight woman wooing an equally overweight stranger at a bar.
With Diana’s sexuality portrayed as some kind of disgusting let’s-not-go-there trifle, Identity Thief is clearly establishing her character as a failure in every aspect of womanhood. She’s not only sexually unattractive, but active and loud about her sexuality. She’s not only a professional criminal, but someone who uses other people’s identities to live a fake life of her own. She’s not only the kind of person who would belt radio tunes during long road trips, but someone whose propensity to do so is borne out of intense, inexorable social anxiety.
Perhaps the film’s most glaring mistake is aligning the viewer’s empathy with Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman), a family man whose identity Diana steals. Bateman, in Michael Bluth mode, plays the straight man to McCarthy’s obnoxious clown; he’s boring, responsible accountant type who gets excited when he manages to save a measly $14 after paying off his family’s bills. His sexuality is also mocked because he’s square and stuffy. Though the humor at his expense isn’t as offensive as the film’s treatment of McCarthy, it’s just as predictable, with characters making the same tired jokes about his “girly” first name and Diana’s colorful telling of fictitious, impotence-related stories about her “husband” to people they meet along the way.
Neither character is particularly lovable, though the film does set up Sandy as a wronged protagonist trying to fix his life and do right in the world, first by trying to get back his shot at social mobility by outwitting the criminal who got him fired from his new job, and then coming to appreciate Diana for her own talents, empathizing with her situation and helping her become a human being with a real identity (while also learning to loosen up himself, and less believably, be a criminal every once in a while). This character dynamic is feasible, but flawed due to the film’s structure; by investing its stock solely in Sandy’s humanity early on and presenting Diana as a repulsive monster, the film squanders its potential in exploring Diana’s immorality as a consequence of a skewed understanding of the American dream. Her various levels of excess—materialism, lack of a real identity, blue eyeliner—form a compelling contrast with Sandy’s sensible financially managed lifestyle and hints at a collective anxiety for many viewers about being or remaining middle class. The film may not know how to handle this anxiety, but it’s certainly present in its depiction of entitled one-percenter CEO jerks, the seemingly sudden and haphazard loss of financial status, and characters desperately yearning to fit into a shrinking socio-economic status.
This release offers a serviceable sound mix that doesn’t go out of its way to make the frequently staccato physical noises pop (squealing tires, car crunching, throat punches), but it’s polished and deep enough to showcase the actors’ range of vocal pitches, which is fine given that the film is mostly dialogue-driven. The film’s bright, colorful settings are also treated with a fine-tuned balancing that’s neither visually arresting nor flawed; it’s simply and expectedly serviceable.
One’s appetite for Identity Thief’s extras largely depends on the viewer’s appreciation (or lack thereof) for the film’s type of physical humor. For those wholly entertained by the film’s bawdy characters, there’s sufficient material on the disc to engage such viewers, including an extended version, alternate takes of improvised lines, and a gag reel.
Bogged down by raunchy body humor, Identity Thief wastes the comedic talents of Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman.