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?
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Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) is an actor in L.A. who has been so out of it lately the only roles he's been scoring are of handicapped people as he says. This is because he has been a walking zombie since he started taking antidepressant and anger-reducing prescription drugs at the age of nine. We watch Andrew slowly come out of his lithium-induced coma on a trip back to his hometown of none other than the Garden State of New Jersey. While the reason for the trip is to attend the funeral of his depressed paraplegic mother "Large " as he's called ends up riding a roller coaster of self-discovery through encounters with old friends and new loves. Mark (Peter Sarsgaard) who appears to be Large's closest buddy is what Dave Matthews would refer to as a "gravedigger " and what the police force would refer to as a "grave robber." Mark's thievish tendencies lead him Large and their friend Sam (Natalie Portman) on a wild goose chase during which time Large opens up to discovering new things thanks to his recent sobriety and the intense connection that he's developed with Sam. The only blemish on this kooky and unique film is its cop-out cheesy ending that carelessly ties together the otherwise exceptional ends of State. But the soundtrack makes up for it.
J.D. trades in his Scrubs for a sweatshirt Natalie Portman and some serious soul-searching. We get to see a whole new side of Braff through his slightly lost character Large--and love every bit of it. The dialogue between Large and Sam is so conversational it hardly feels like you're watching a scripted film. Writer/director/actor Braff's grasp of his character and the movie as a whole shines brilliantly through every last scene. Portman no doubt received first-rate direction evident through her infusion of audacity warmth and quirkiness into her appropriately odd character Sam. She does an excellent job providing the blast of sunshine needed to lighten up Large's previously gloomy existence. Sarsgaard takes control of his character Mark as well as his costars with a Jack Black-like attitude. Despite his mother's constant nagging him to get a job he is a proud stoner slacker--portraying his disreputable hobbies even more pathetically on the big screen than one might imagine. Every character we meet in State has a distinct association with Large allowing Braff's magic to extend to each actor in the film through his unmatched acting and directing skills.
The first time's a charm: Garden State marks Zach Braff's feature writing and directorial debut. Known best as J.D. the leading role on NBC's hit series Scrubs Braff's incontestable moviemaking abilities have been exposed all at once; he apparently connected really well with his costars as they all delivered worthy performances. On the film's official site Portman describes working with Braff as "really open to collaborate efforts." Even in a scene involving the drug ecstasy at a party in which Large is seated in an unchanged position on a couch for the duration of a night the music and camera shots make it one of the most memorable scenes of the film. Clearly Braff is a gifted filmmaker and the impressive State is only the beginning.
December 21, 2001 8:07am EST
Jamal (Redman) and Silas (Method Man) have spent the last six years attending a two-year community college and smoking way too much marijuana. When their friend Ivory (Chuck Davis) dies after falling asleep with a lit joint loosely dangling from his lip and catching on fire Silas uses his ashes to fertilize one of his plants. Now it seems that whenever the two smoke weed from the special plant they get a visit from the ghost of their dead friend. When the time comes to take their THCs (that's Testing for Higher Credentials) Jamal and Silas light up and enlist Ivory's help to pass the tests. The plan works and the twosome's perfect test scores get them admitted into Harvard University. But the high times quickly take a nosedive when an on-campus security guard steals the spiritual plant. The two must now figure out how to stay at the highbrow institution and fulfill their dreams of developing pot in a real lab.
Method Man plays Silas a pot dealer with big dreams with Redman as his best friend Jamal. Because the roles are practically tailor-made with them in mind they are able to play their characters as written and bring much of their public persona to the screen. They also have great chemistry and literally light up any scene they are in together. With a shaky script to stand on these two easily carry the film. Lark Voorhies (Saved by the Bell) is convincingly sweet and natural as the poor but really smart girl and Silas' object of affection but Essence Atkins is too over-the-top and contrived as the U.S. vice president's daughter with eyes on Jamal. Obba Babatunde had some good scenes as the uptight but underdeveloped character of Dean Cain and there are some great notable cameo appearances by Spalding Gray as a professor of African-American history and rappers Cypress Hill as party deejays.
How High was produced by Danny DeVito's Jersey Films and marks Jesse Dylan's feature directorial debut. The movie has some extremely funny moments like the overly dramatic slow motion shot of Jamal's cheese doodle dropping onto Dean Cain's imported handmade rug and some great references that aren't too obscure to catch (does "Pass the dutchy from the left hand side" sound familiar?) But while the film has its creative moments it is marred by a superficial script complete with a not-so-funny pimp his sidekick and some stereotypical "hos." The story becomes a little too formulaic and lacks the sophistication of Ice Cube's Friday and the intricacies of Tamra Davis' Half-Baked. But as far as this comedies go How High--thanks mostly in part to Redman and Method Man--is entertaining enough to join the ranks of classic pot comedies like Cheech & Chong's Up in Smoke.