Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Guest Review: Identity Thief

By Koshcat

I watched Identity Thief with my wife a few weeks ago. It stars Jason Bateman as Sandy Patterson, an accountant for a large investment company located in Denver. This is a light comedy that is worth checking out despite a few flaws.
Plot
The story begins with Jason Bateman discovering that he has been lied to by his company. They’ve claimed they can’t afford bonuses or raises because of the recession, but Bateman finds himself called upon to print out large bonus checks for a few of the executives. This angers him, so when he is asked by some of his colleagues to leave the company and start a new firm with them, he decides to go for it even though this is a big risk for him because he is only just getting by with a pregnant wife and two kids.

After they leave the company, they seek to arrange a loan to capitalize the new firm. When they apply for the loan, however, they discover that Bateman’s credit is worthless. He also finds himself arrested on an outstanding warrant. It turns out that right at the same time Bateman left the company, a woman in Florida had stolen his identity and was living large off his credit. She had even gotten arrested under his name, which leads to the warrant.
Bateman is released when the arrest records show that the police are looking for a woman. But without clearing his credit, the new company can’t get the loan they need to get started, and returning to his old job is an impossibility. He has one week to clear everything up to save the company. Unfortunately, the police advise him that it will probably take months to resolve this matter. Needing to solve this crisis within a week, Bateman makes a deal to go to Florida, find this woman, bring her back, and get her to admit to the crime. The movie then becomes about his attempt to pull that off.
What Worked, What Didn’t
The movie itself is entertaining. It is kind of a rom-com but not exactly as there isn’t any romance between the two but they do become friends. Melissa McCarthy plays Diana, the thief in question. Melissa is a stand-up comedian and the chemistry between her and Bateman from their first confrontation to traveling across country to the end is pretty good. She is quite funny but I will warn you that this is not for children. Bateman plays the straight man well and he is very likable.
Bateman: You’re diabolical.
McCarthy: Thank you.
Bateman: That’s not a compliment.
McCarthy: I know.
In some ways, the film’s heart is in the right place too. The funny setup helps you forgot that a regular guy is trying to apprehend a woman larger than him and force her across the country in violation of all kinds of laws. He has found himself in a deep hole and only he can dig himself out. This is a standard idea in films. For her part, when Diana gets to know Sandy and his family she realizes that what she did wasn’t a victimless crime and she decides to do the right thing... eventually. I see these as conservative ideas or at least ethical principles; only you can really help yourself out and when you make a mistake and hurt someone you should accept the punishment. I found that pleasant.
That said, I do have a couple reservations, however. In particular, there were several issues I found to be quite irritating. First, they made Diana into an innocent victim of her childhood. She doesn’t know her real identity and she doesn’t like who she really is so she uses others’ identities. See, it isn’t her fault. It was her mother’s. Such crap. There are plenty of criminals from both good and bad backgrounds and just because you’ve had a hard life is no reason to hurt other people. She is choosing to steal identities, she is not forced to do so. And while she may feel like this is a “victimless” crime because she doesn’t know or see the victims, that’s just an excuse to justify this to herself.

Secondly, I have met people like Diana and generally they are sociopaths. They cannot be trusted and they do not feel that the regular rules apply to them. They can be nice and even help you at times but only if it is in their best interest. As soon as they can they will screw you over and run. There will never be a true epiphany where they change who they are, yet this film, as Hollywood always does, implies that people like this can be made to go straight if they just realize who they’ve hurt. That’s simply not true.
Another issue that bothers me is that the film justifies Bateman’s crimes. Basically, they do a great job making Bateman out a regular up-standing guy. But then they have him perform a crime that he gets away with to make the story work. And rather than pointing out how wrong this is, the film sends the message that his crime was excused because the victim of his crime was his ex-boss, who is a complete a$$hole (this was another issue, making all the upper executives greedy a$$holes, but this is so common in movies it’s par for the course so this didn't bother me too much). Again, crimes are crimes and we should not be suggesting that a crime is only wrong when it’s done to the wrong people.

Finally, I struggled a bit with the setup itself. This new company is trying to capitalize with millions of dollars. If you’re talking about that much money, why not spend a few thousand dollars on a top notch lawyer or bounty hunter to fix this without having a civilian illegally force a person to come with him across the country. Of course, that would have made for a boring story, but it always made the story feel a little contrived.

Anyhow, if you are in the mood for a relatively light comedy, especially if you like the kind with comedy duos, I think you will enjoy this movie.

22 comments:

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks for filling in with a review, Koshcat!

Tennessee Jed said...

Thanks, Koshcat. Very nice review! I am pretty sure I would have problems with the same issues you mentioned. I do enjoy the light comedy from time to time.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I enjoy light comedies from time to time as well and I've liked most of what Bateman has done lately. He seems to keep playing the same character in each film -- straight man pushed too far, but it really works.

Koshcat said...

I've made the big time now. Of course since I don't use my real name no one will know. Thanks for helping me Andrew and I'm glad your feeling better.

Bateman seems to have found a role or character that works for him. When this movie was going long I was really please because the liberal Hollywood garbage was fairly minimal...up until Sandy stole his bosses identity. It almost ruined the film for me.


I also like duo comedies which this clearly fits.

Koshcat said...

Your--> you're.

In before the grammarians get me.

LL said...

I didn't see this film at the theater because the reviews seemed negative. This one went the other way. Thank you for clarifying the film.

Koshcat said...

LL

I watched it at home as well. What interested me was Bateman. I liked his role in Couples Retreat; he comes across as very likeable. My wife, who usually falls asleep during most movies, stayed awake for this one. I liked the approach of making this a comedy duo movie. Perhaps that could be a weekend debate question: your favorite comedy duo team. I think mine might be Lemmon-Matthau.

I am at work today so I will pop in to answer questions when I can.

tryanmax said...

I saw this movie and thought it was decent. I think McCarthy is hilarious, even if she routinely plays to the fat white trash trope.

I can forgive glossing over all the laws broken involving kidnapping a person and crossing several states. Otherwise, we'd have far fewer road movies. And most comedies rely on implausible setups, so again, I let it go.

On the other hand, it'd have been nice if the writers could have found a non-criminal way to get back at the a$$hole boss, especially given that the protagonist is responding to a theft against himself.

That said, I have no qualms with vilifying greedy execs. Jon Favreau's greedy exec is offset by John Cho's egalitarian entrepreneur--basically showing both good and bad examples of business leadership. So Patterson's boss stands only as proxy for the types of execs that rightly should be condemned.

Unfortunately, I have to call you on wanting it both ways with Diana. Hers is a redemptive story-arc, so she must have a reasonable--if not totally justifiable--motivation for her initial actions. Her crappy childhood satisfies that. But she must also come to the realization that her motives are not justifiable and own up to the consequences of her actions. Which is exactly what happens. For the narrative to work, Diana must have that change of perspective. Otherwise, she'd have been an ethical person all along and would never have stolen Sandy Patterson's identity.

If Diana was a mere sociopath, then we'd have a revenge tale--which could also be funny, but very, very different.

BevfromNYC said...

Hey, Koshcat! Welcome to the big time! As far as your grammar faux pas, I would have gone with "I'm glad your feelingS ARE better". Then you could just blame Blogger for dropping letters and it sounds more betterer...;-)

I really like Bateman and McCarthy. Both of them play roles that are similar from movie to movie, but that's okay. So did Hope and Crosby. I would love to see what McCarthy could do with a dramatic role. I bet she'd knock it out of the park. Though I don't necessarily like some of the crudeness of her roles, she commits to it fully and is fearless.

This movie is on my Netflix list.

Koshcat said...

tryanmax-

I agree with you about the story arc and I guess you could say she was a thief with a heart of gold. I may be a little sensitive as there is a person in my extended family who is a complete crook. I protect myself by not having any interaction with him, let alone meeting my children. Hollywood though seems to always run with the arc: gangster with heart of gold, serial killer with heart of gold, prostitute with a heart of gold, etc. It's just unrealistic.

Koshcat said...

Bev-

Thanks and I have no problem blaming blogger. I often tell Siri that she is an idiot.

I think it would be interesting for these two to try to make another duo. They have so many opposites that really help set up the jokes.

BevfromNYC said...

Koshkat - Siri (or at least the Android equivalent) called ME an idiot! She/It probably learned it from you...;-)

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Your phone called you an idiot? LOL! Nice.

AndrewPrice said...

I suppose that Bateman first really got into this manic-straight-guy person for Arrested Development, but I first noticed it in a film called Extract. The film was ok, not great, and he did a solid job. Then he played the same character in Horrible Bosses and Couples Retreat and really did quite well. I haven't seen this one, but I definitely look forward to it.

Good call on comedy couples/duos. We'll have to ask that in the next round.

tryanmax said...

Koshcat, I wouldn't say Diana was a thief with a heart of gold, just that she was redeemable.

BTW, if you like McCarthy, I recommend The Heat. It makes none of the mistakes of other female-driven comedies. The women don't act like men or girls, but realistic women and the body humor isn't overdone and doesn't reach the point of being uncomfortable to watch.

ScottDS said...

I like Bateman and I'd probably like McCarthy more but the media adulation has kinda turned me off. I know that's unfair and it'll disappear in time... but critics were seriously talking about a "Best Supporting Actress" Oscar nomination after her role in Bridesmaids and it's like, really?!?! It comes off as cynical, kind of "Hey, look at the funny fat lady!"

But I digress. :-)

This movie... maybe I'll see it one day but I get the distinct impression that I'd find it more annoying than anything else. And it's weird... I have no problem with black comedies or shows like Seinfeld where no one learned... but I do have a problem with characters who make life hell for other people and who don't suffer for it. (Like Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher - I just wanted to punch her!)

Koshcat said...

Tryanmax-

Thanks for the recommendation. I hadn't really noticed McCarthy prior to this movie but I see she has been in several, including Charlie's Angels.

I wouldn't say that making her redeemable bothered me too much. It is a common arc. What nearly ruined the movie for me is when they had Sandy steal his boss' identity. I think they could have had her steal it to "help" Sandy without his help and it would have been fine.

Koshcat said...

ScottDS-

One issue different in this movie from the others is at the end...

SPOILER ALERT




...she admits everything to the police, clearing Sandy, and goes to jail.

ScottDS said...

Kosh -

I went ahead and read the spoiler. I feel better now. :-)

Kit said...

"They’ve claimed they can’t afford bonuses or raises because of the recession, but Bateman finds himself called upon to print out large bonus checks for a few of the executives."

From what I know about Hollywood, this may be subtly inspired by the behavior of studio execs and accountants. They write up the expenses in a way so that on the books the film failed to make a profit thereby excusing the studio from having to pay royalties.
LINK

tryanmax said...

Koshcat, that--I think they could have had her steal it to "help" Sandy without his help and it would have been fine.--would be a vast improvement. Sort of a last hurrah with Diane going behind Sandy's back. Then he can be both miffed and reluctantly glad that she saved his bacon.

But I agree, as written that part totally undermines the rest of the movie.

Koshcat said...

Kit-

Since Hollywood is continually involved with fantasy it would surprise me that their finances are as well. Would explain how most of these genius actors have such a poor understanding of basic economics.

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