Identity Thief written by Craig Mazin and Jerry Eeten and directed by Seth Gordon follows a mild mannered businessman Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) who goes through unexpected financial and career troubles when Diana (Melissa McCarthy) steals his identity to purchase and hoard seemingly worthless junk.
The story exploits the typical credit problems most people suffer when their identity has been taken. Unfortunately for Sandy, his bad luck does not stop with maxed out credit cards. He’s arrested; accused of buying illegal drugs and is on the brink of loosing his job because of the drug allegations. Naturally, the only way out of this ‘all too real’ predicament is to find the perpetrator himself. But Sandy lives in Denver and the charges the thief racked up occurred in Florida. Let the road trip begin.
McCarthy and Bateman are great comedic actors, there is witty dialogue and hilarious comments murmured under their breaths but overall the film falls short of what audiences have come to expect from powerhouses like Bateman and McCarthy. This duo should have generated an original home run without much effort. Instead it is another movie that fell off the Hollywood conveyor belt. In an uncomplimentary way this film is “Tommy Boy” meets “Office Space” on a “Road Trip.”
So what went wrong? Bad script? Bad jokes? Bad storyline? How much creative control did McCarthy and Bateman really have?
Interestingly, Bateman actually discovered the script and brought it to Mazin.
“There was an original screenplay by Jerry Eeten and it had this great idea in it. It kinda just sat at the studio for years and no one could quite figure it out. It was a different story where it was two men. Jason [Bateman] had been attached for a long time and he saw BRIDESMAIDS and Melissa [McCarthy]. He thought if it was Melissa who stole his identity…that’s when I got a call from Jason. So what I was given was this wonderful premise and these two incredible actors. From there, Jason and I sat together over the course of a few weeks and laid out a story.”
Some of the hilarious jokes are lost between the cheap and easy ones. The credit card fraud storyline is relatable. The script is perhaps questionable. In an interview with Very Aware, Gordon credits some of the funniest moments to the improvisational skills of the two stars.
“The elephant belt couldn’t have been scripted. The punching in the neck was an idea we had as a button for the movie but was a very last minute idea. Hitting her with the guitar was not scripted – there just happened to be a guitar. Jason was like, ‘I wanna hit her with the guitar.’ I was like, ‘I don’t know if we have enough guitars!’ Those are some memorable moments from the movie that were not planned. The whole sex scene was improv’d. I just set up the camera as an empty frame so that something would pop in and out of that frame from some direction.”
Regarding McCarthy’s performance, “The whole, ‘and then I feel bad and then I eat and LORD KNOWS I EAT,’ lines were not scripted. She just did it. Same with “Bermuda Triangle.” We couldn’t believe that it’s never been done before and that just came out. She pulled out gold! Epic, memorable stuff. You couldn’t pick takes sometimes because they were all so good and different. Not only did she have an instinct of how to play a scene, but she had instincts on wardrobe – that crazy look.”
Gordon credits McCarthy for creating the entire style of her character.
It seems this movie would have really bombed without the creative energy of McCarthy. Perhaps Mazin and Bateman should have consulted with McCarthy regarding the script writing if they knew that was the female lead. Lessoned learned. Next time you want to duplicate the comedic success of “Bridesmaids” you need more than just Melissa McCarthy in it. Next time let her and Kristen Wiig write it.
Commercially the film faired better. Production cost $35 million that was recouped on the opening weekend. That was $10 million more than “Bridesmaids” brought in on its opening weekend. That speaks more to audience expectations and their love for McCarthy and Bateman than to the quality of the film. So far Identity Thief’s lifetime gross has reached $173 million worldwide.
Gordon has directed short films, documentaries and most recently “The Goldbergs” that premiered this fall on ABC. Other familiar titles include, Horrible Bosses, Freakonomics and Four Christmases.