Identity Thief (2013)

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Identity theft is no small matter nowadays. Everyone seems to have their cards cloned. I know that I did a year ago! You’d think it’d be hard to pass yourself off as The Phage, as I’m essentially some weird shape with some legs… but I guess there are certain pockets of breeding in the UK that would yield an orange offspring with spikey legs. In a nutshell, identity theft is something that everyone is starkly aware of nowadays and as such is ripe for the glorious Hollywood treatment right? So how does Identity Thief cope? Does it actually have an identity of its own, or is it just some pale imitation of a superior product?

Sometimes you can’t but show favouritism towards something. You know you shouldn’t, but you do. Maybe you’ve got a child that you prefer more than his/her brother/sister? You clearly don’t tell them, but deep down… you do. The same goes for films when they star someone you’re quite partial to. See, I’m a massive fan of Jason Bateman. I love his style of comedy thanks in no small part to the fantastic Arrested Development. Sure, he’s always essentially playing the same role, but if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it. And don’t fix it he does. Wow, that’s confusing to type. I’m sure I’ve broken 100 grammatical rules there. So when I saw that he was the lead in Identity Thief I was immediately interested in the film… but…

Identity Thief (2013)

OK, before I delve into the review, let’s give everyone a quick synopsis. Not that it’s needed. If you look at the poster and the title of the film, it should all be pretty apparent right? Jason Bateman plays Sandy Patterson – a good guy. He pays his bills, works in banking and tries to do right by his family. However, all this goes to hell in a handbasket when he has his identity stolen by some deranged woman in Florida (Melissa McCarthy). She racks up a ton of bills and arrest warrants; thus throwing Sandy’s life into turmoil. So what does he do? Well, he heads out to confront his female imposter in order to get his life back. With hilarious consequences.

The trouble with this film is it’s essentially way too long and relies on very weak jokes to keep it plodding along. As I’ve already confessed, I enjoy seeing Bateman on-screen, but not even this was enough to keep me engrossed in the movie. It just kept on going… and going… and going. At some points it felt like I was watching Due Date again, but minus the obvious tension of Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis’ relationship. The film also resorts to a saccharine tale of redemption and how one person can reform their character. OK, I should have been acutely aware this is what would happen, as it’d be hard for the film to take many other paths. And now that I think of it, I can’t actually see another way that the film would progress, but it still irked me. It seemed jarring.

The premise of identity theft should be ripe for some great send-ups, but the plot seems to have had its own identity stolen and replaced with that of a mindless pseudo-action/chase movie, replete with some extremely bizarre sex scenes and car chases. This… I wasn’t expecting.

Who are these people? Don't worry... they're superfluous.

Who are these people? Don’t worry… they’re superfluous.

Having said ALL of this, I still thought Jason Bateman was great. I love his style of acting and this is another fine example of him at his best. It’s just a shame that the script and plotting are so weak. Similarly, Melissa McCarthy is great in her role too; it’s just a shame her character is so vapid for the majority of the film and then unquestionably deep for the final third. Although she’s clearly a great comedic actress, I just grew tired of the gags they had her perform. As I’ve said previously – they just go on… and on… and on. She needed a more well-rounded character or at least some more impressive set pieces to allow her to flex her chops.

Ultimately, Identity Thief falls down in two key areas: laughs and plotting. It lacks both. What you’re left with is a film that’s confused about what it wants to be: a jack of all trades, master of none. It tries its hand at action, raunch and slapstick, but falls down in most of those areas. Hell, even if it worked in the slapstick department, I still wouldn’t be impressed, as that’s not really our favoured style over here at Film Phage.

It’s quite ironic that Identity Thief lacks identity. Maybe it was an extremely cunning and meta joke by the film makers here. Yes, surely that’s what they were thinking when they put together the movie. Surely? Oh… it wasn’t? This is meant to be an enjoyable comedy? Oh… alright then. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen worse movies in recent months, but this is clearly just a movie you’d watch “if it was on TV”. Look out though – it’ll bill itself as a comedy… it’s all lies. Spurious lies.

Phage Factor:

2 Stars

The Campaign (2012)

Sometimes films land at a time that’s just so apt, so perfect that it’s a true stroke of luck. Take Contagion for example – the film about the deadly strain of influenza bat-derived virus. You may be thinking that it was commissioned because of the H1N1 outbreak, but you’d be wrong. It was just a happy co-incidence, as the film was actually sparked by SARS and the emerging H5N1 bird flu virus. You see? Right time – right place! Other films are less fortuitous and focus on hitting cinemas to coincide with something. And The Campaign is clearly one of those films.

Now, The Campaign hit the US some months ago, so to my Atlantic cousins, I apologise – as this is old news for you. You could argue that launching the film way back in the summer was a mistake considering your elections fall in November. I’d have thought launching now would have been more appropriate, but I guess Hollywood knows best. That or your politics system knows best… Both have so many similarities…

Ok, the film tells the tale that you pretty much expect it to: two men are campaigning for a Congressional seat on behalf of North Carolina. On one hand you have Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) – a career politician who’s a womaniser, liar and every other cliché you could throw at a politician. But he’s in charge. Then you have his opposition: Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) who is quite a simple guy and embodies every other cliché you could throw at Zach Galifianakis‘ on-screen roles to date. All of this electoral hoopla is controlled by “the man” and the “big corporations” embodied here by Dan Akyroyd and John Lithgow – the Motch brothers. Has this got you excited yet? What if I say there are a hell of a lot of big names that make an appearance in here? Excited? Well… manage that excitement.

The film is very middle-of-the-road. When it hit US cinemas some hailed it a comic masterpiece, whilst others snorted with derision. I do neither, but I’d certainly say it’s more worthy of a snort than hailing it as a masterpiece. Let’s get one thing straight though: Will Ferrell has made far worse films in recent years. I know that’s not saying much, but it’s true. I’ve never really understood his appeal if I’m honest. I think Anchorman is vastly overrated and he, like Galifianakis (who I’m coming to), decides to play a very similar role time after time. This is no different.

So whilst I’ve brought him up, let’s move to the second lead: Zach Galifianakis. You see, I actually do like this guy and enjoy The Hangover and Due Date – arguably his two biggest films to date. I also think his stand-up is bizarre but entertaining and his more “serious” role in It’s Kind Of A Funny Story was solidly acted and hinted at a deeper, more complex actor than you’d be led to believe. This isn’t one of those performances. Whilst I do like his schtick, Galifianakis veers very heavily towards his character from Due Date. It’s less acting and more a parody of an effeminate man from the south. It’s a bit like a sketch show if I’m honest. This might fly on Saturday Night Live, but not so much on the big screen; especially when I know the guy is capable of more than this.

I would go into depth on the plot, but it’s a Will Ferrell movie… you’re not going to walk out of this movie debating the intricacies of the story, as you may have done with Looper. In fact, I’d be surprised if you walked out and uttered much more than “that was alright”. That’s essentially all that can be drawn from the film. However, one thing that’s worth mentioning is the ending. Just what is that? It’s almost as if they’d finished filming and editing and thought “you know what, why don’t we bolt on 30 seconds more footage?”. And this 30 seconds of footage is so disconnected and horribly bolted on that it’s just… weird. A very poor choice from whoever commissioned that ending. Not that it improves or destroys what had gone before, it’s just very peculiar.

And after all that, let’s discuss what matters with a comedy: the humour. Some films can be forgiven for a dull plot by having some great laughs. This has some laughs, for sure, but with the exception of some “punchy” jokes, none have truly stuck with me since I saw the credits roll. Most of the laughs were of the “ooo, can they do that?” variety, as opposed to a well constructed joke. And by saying that, don’t think I’m a very conservative guy. I’m British – we’re used to pushing the boundaries so far over the precipice of acceptability that we’re impaled on the rocks below. I don’t know where this films on that particular cliff, but it’s definitely straddling the boundary between “good” and “ok” film…

When all’s said and done, if you’re a Will Ferrell fan, you’ll probably already have seen this film because you’re a fan of what he does. It’s amazing how much pull that guy still has, despite the fact he’s not put out a hit in quite some time. I’m sure Anchorman 2 will do big business because of this fact alone. Me? Sure, I’ll see it, but I won’t be first in line.

So on whether The Campaign should get your vote or not, I’d say that the verdict’s currently hung. But, since Film Phage isn’t like the US political system (ie., we can’t be bought… or maybe we could if we were approached), then I’d have to stick to my guns and state that this film truly is middle of the road. There will be no recounts, there will be no re-elections and there will be no sale of the votes amassed by Florida.

Phage Factor: