Misused talent is disappointing. Although Jason Bateman who stars as Sandy Patterson in Identity Thief was fantastic on Arrested Development he's never quite hit the same rhythm when it comes to movie roles. His co-star Melissa McCarthy who is probably best known for her Bridesmaids shenanigans has been quietly putting out terrific work for years — especially in the show Gilmore Girls. She's Bateman's foil in her latest film playing Diana a lifestyle identity thief whose social engineering wipes out Sandy's bank account tanks his credit and jeopardizes his new job at a financial firm.
Cue 21st century financial distress plot point about the little guy just trying to make ends meet and how he's family man and blah blah blah. Too bad an accountant doesn't realize not to give his social security number out on the phone to a stranger.
It's so easy to root for McCarthy and Bateman — so easy in fact that one can almost overlook the most half-baked aspects of Identity Thief: the limp road trip the even worse car chases the stupid subplot that affords us a few glimpses of beloved Breaking Bad-baddie Jonathan Banks the exhausting make-over and last but never least the weirdly moralistic and touchy-feely ending.
Identity Thief asks a somewhat interesting question which is what could prompt a person to steal another's identity?
The answer of course is a "Hobbit-sized" woman with an orange-tinted fake tan and tacky makeup who on one hand is charismatic enough to talk her way out of anything but lonely enough that she makes up a never-ending stream of lies to tell strangers who aren't listening anyway.
In the end she's not a sociopath she's just an emotionally broken person who needs a cream rinse and some neutral eye shadow.
There's something amazing and pathetic in the first scene where we meet Diana. She's buying drinks for an entire bar and naturally everyone is shouting her name (well Sandy's name) and clapping and rallying around her because who doesn't like free drinks?
When a bartender gets tired of her hijinks he tries to take her down a peg by sneering at her that these strangers aren't her friends and they'll never be her friends and that they only like her because she's buying them stuff. So she punches him in the throat.
There's promise in this premise when Diana is allowed to be vicious and wily but as the story transmogrifies into a road trip/morality lesson she is awkwardly defanged in what could be assumed is an attempt to flesh out her character and give her a past that would explain away everything.
Sandy is a weak character to begin with; the ongoing jokes about how Sandy is a woman's name is all too typical of screenwriter Craig Mazin who's penned all three Hangover movies Scary Movie 3 and 4 and Superhero Movie. At least there's not a smoking monkey right?
Bateman is often typecast as an Everyman because only in Hollywood could someone who looks like Jason Bateman pass for a regular guy on the street. He's that Everyman here too — a doting dad a loving husband a hardworking employee an honest citizen — but there's an ugly edge to him that Diana brings out.
What's interesting about this dynamic is that Diana becomes much more empathetic even before Mazin et al throw in a ham-handed backstory for her. The people that encounter them on their road trip — and the explanation for that is too exhausting to get into — see Diana as a fun warm woman and they give Sandy a hard time for being a jerk to her. (Cheers to a great Ben Falcone cameo as one such gentleman.)
It's not clear if we're supposed to be on Diana's side or if we're to believe that she's using her prodigious social engineering skills to her own ends or if it's supposed to be hilarious that men would actually find her sexually attractive and cool.
I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and go with the former. The latter in particular would just be too much to swallow especially given the garish make-up and clothes she's wearing before she realizes the error of her ways both morally and aesthetically.
Identity Thief is better than The Hangover and on par with director Seth Gordon's Horrible Bosses which Bateman also appeared in. It's something you'll watch on demand one night when you don't feel like moving off your couch.
Why is it so hard for these two talented actors and comedians to find good movie roles? If we learned anything from This is 40 it's that any movie can be improved by letting McCarthy improvise.
How much longer do we have to wait to see their own respective projects get off the ground? And why isn't Gilmore Girls on Netflix Instant yet?
From Our Partners:
Celebrity Swimsuits Ever (Celebuzz)
Stars: Where Are They Now? (Celebuzz)
This is the dawn of a prosperous comedy career for Melissa McCarthy, and sort of a post-brunch period of the same type of career for Jason Bateman. The year saw both comedians get unprecedented notoriety. McCarthy earned it for her breakout role in Bridesmaids, and Bateman swept 2011 with several comedic roles, most notably the summer's Horrible Bosses. The two are pairing up in what should be, if history predicts anything, quite the formula.
The new comedy is called ID Theft: one character steals the other one's identity. Pretty low-concept, which often means pretty high-laughs. As you would assume, the wildcard Melissa McCarthy will be the thief, while Jason Bateman will again don the role of put-upon victim. But just because Bateman is the victimized character, it doesn't mean that there won't be room for some against-type characteristics. Bateman has vocalized his desire to expand his horizons beyond the stressed out straight man. What with his producer's credit on this film, he may have more control over what direction in which to take his character. Bateman himself was active in selecting McCarthy for the ID thief role, which was originally conceived for a man.
Whatever Bateman will be doing, this movie already seems promising. The comic chops of both stars are insurmountable. The plot is solid. The writers, Steve Conrad (The Weather Man) and Craig Mazin (The Hangover II) have impressed us before. So, good news all around.
When crafting a follow-up to the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time it’s understandable that one might be reticent to mess with a winning formula. But director Todd Phillips and writers Craig Mazin and Scot Armstrong seem to have confused revisiting with recycling: The Hangover Part II so closely mirrors its blockbuster predecessor in every vital aspect that it can scarcely claim the right to call itself a sequel.
The only significant new wrinkle introduced in Part II is its setting: Bangkok Thailand a location that at least theoretically augurs well for a second helping of inspired lunacy. The story structure of the first film has been copied wholesale a game of Mad Libs played with its script. The action is again set around a bachelor party this time in honor of buttoned-down dentist Stu (Ed Helms). Again the boys (Stu Bradley Cooper’s boorish frat boy Phil and Zach Galifianakis’ moronic man-child Alan) awaken the next day in a hideously debauched hotel room with little memory of the previous night’s revelry. And again there is a missing companion: Teddy (Mason Lee son of Ang) the brother-in-law to be. (Poor Justin Bartha is once again relegated to the sidelines popping up now and then to push the plot forward via cell phone.)
The amnesiac/investigative angle of the first Hangover made for a refreshing twist on the contemporary men-behaving-badly comedy. Repeated here its effect is arguably the opposite: Too often the action feels rote and formulaic. Gone is any hint of surprise an aspect so crucial to good comedy and a huge part of the first film’s appeal. Key comic set pieces – a tussle with monks at a Buddhist temple a visit to a transsexual brothel a car chase involving a drug-dealing monkey – reveal themselves to be merely variations of memorable bits from the first film.
Tonally Part II is darker cruder and a bit nastier than its predecessor. Female characters never a priority in the first film are further marginalized in the sequel. (The only woman with significant dialogue a Bangkok prostitute also happens to have a penis. I’ll let you ponder the implications of that one.) The three leads Helms Cooper and Galifianakis still work well together and despite the inferior material enough of their chemistry remains to make the proceedings bearable – and occasionally funny. But their characters feel somehow degraded reduced to coarse caricatures of their former selves. Speaking of caricature Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) the fey faux-gangsta villain of the first film returns in an expanded capacity in the sequel his garbled hip-hop slang more gratuitous – and more grating – than before.
I can’t help but wonder what might have been if a planned cameo by Mel Gibson playing a tattoo artist hadn’t been scrapped reportedly due to objections by Galifianakis. Liam Neeson Gibson’s replacement apparently proved ineffectual in his first go-round and when he wasn't available for re-shoots his scene was eventually shot with Nick Cassavetes in the role. In its existing incarnation the scene is purely functional a chunk of forgettable exposition. The presence of Gibson an actor of not inconsiderable comic talent would have at least added an air of unpredictability something the scene – and indeed the movie – sorely lacks.
It’s basically the first Spider-Man film with dirtier jokes. The plotline dutifully follows--and upends--all the story points of the wall-crawler’s big screen opus replacing Peter Parker with Rick Riker (Drake Bell) a geeky high schooler bitten by a genetically enhanced dragonfly who then gains requisite superpowers. Rick has the pert love interest (Sara Paxton) the megalomaniacal nemesis the Hourglass (Christopher McDonald) and a dotty doting uncle-aunt combo (Leslie Nielsen and Marion Ross) as well as walk-ons encounters from other superheroes spoofmeisters including Tracy Morgan as Professor X Craig Bierko as Wolverine Simon Rex as the Human Torch and Pamela Anderson in blink-and-you’ll-miss-her turn as the Invisible Girl quite literally. But despite some allusions to a handful of recent heroic hits Superhero Movie sticks surprisingly close to the Spider-Man template only and never adequately attacks the entire phenomenon of comic book flicks. To use accomplished parody film icons like Nielsen (of Naked Gun renown) and Robert Hays (of Airplane legend) is to invite disastrous comparison. Fortunately disaster doesn’t strike--not entirely. The new kids Bell (of Nickelodeon’s Drake and Josh fame) and Paxton (Aquamarine) are sunny enough on-screen personalities but don’t quite have the comic chops or the oh-so-serious ironic approach to mark them as standouts in the genre. Most of the star cameos fall flatter than you’d hope though Marion Ross surprises with a go-for-broke turn that will forever color the way you think of Happy Days’ Mrs. Cunningham. McDonald does all the film’s heavy lifting gleefully chewing the scenery spitting it out and then re-chewing the remains. Special props go to Miles Fisher for his brief but brilliant send-up of Tom Cruise. Superhero Movie neither soars to the silly heights of its predecessor Scary Movies nor crashes to the ground like the dreadful Epic Movie. Craig Mazin who wrote the third and fourth Scary Movie offerings and helmed the 2000 superhero spoof The Specials has enough of a solid feel for the material. The laughs come at a decent pace though lots of the gags lack inspiration and too many of the spot-on shot swipes from the Spider-Man films stop at imitation and rarely achieve a greater sense of parody and fun. Still if a silly look at superheroics is what you’re after--and TV’s The Tick is still lingering in your Netflix queue--then Superhero Movie wins the day in the end.
Tom Cruise has been pop culture for the better part of two years now--save for the Pitt-Aniston-Jolie triangle--inviting both positive (War of the Worlds' success) and negative (tracking mud on Oprah's couch) press. It's no surprise then that Cruise's work and leisure activity are most ridiculed in Scary Movie 4. Following a Saw gag and Charlie Sheen cameo (finishing off his Scary Movie 3 role) the film stumbles upon a plot that's a cross between War of the Worlds The Grudge and The Village: deadbeat dad Tom Ryan (Craig Bierko) watches his kids for the weekend when aliens attack; in the neighboring haunted house Cindy (Anna Faris) is a caretaker who travels to a remote village in search of answers. Tom and Cindy fall for each other but after they're respective crises set in they'll have to weave through a spoof obstacle course before they can reunite. Faris got her feet wet with this franchise but she may have finally outgrown the recurring role as these roles are meant to either launch or restore careers. Nonetheless Faris one of the most talented comedic actresses handles it with true professionalism bringing her A-game of faux naïveté and star-quality beauty. Bierko tries his hand at comedy after his underappreciated turn in Cinderella Man. The result is a great Cruise send-up that boldly tackles the couch-jumping as seen on Oprah. Regina Hall reprising her role as Cindy's randy friend Brenda is given the worst role and acts accordingly. Likewise Leslie Nielsen--back as President Harris from SM3--provides little beyond a brief parody of George W. The rest of the cast--Bill Pullman Carmen Electra Chris Elliott Anthony Anderson and Michael Madsen et al--would fall in the aforementioned career-restoration category. After rescuing the Scary Movie franchise from a sub-$100 million gross with SM3 director David Zucker is given another go. And much like his Naked Gun--with old chum Nielsen--felt toward the end of its run this series is exhausted. Zucker--along with writers Craig Mazin and (frequent collaborator) Jim Abrahams--sets the audience up so many times for at least decent laughs before dropping the ball bailing out with physical pratfalls that bring to mind a cartoon. The disappointments are endless considering the director has deadpan masters at the ready and enough ammo for an abundance of celeb and/or movie gags although his jabs at Brokeback Mountain are so pre-Oscars. Of course he doesn't totally fail to deliver but it's only when he ceases relying on the Three Stooges bits that anything truly funny happens.