It's hard to find big Hollywood comedies these days that aren't either "hard-R" raunchfests like "The Hangover" or "Ted," or dumbed-down, bland mediocrities like "Parental Guidance."
It's even rarer to find an R-rated comedy that has a strong moral center.
"Identity Thief" has these qualities in spades.
With a lead character who is a hardworking and happy husband and family man striving to do the right thing amid great peril, and a criminal nemesis who agrees that she must face justice with a prison term, "Thief" delivers big laughs while its characters make traditional moral choices at nearly every level. Although it's R-rated primarily for foul language, even its profanities are used sparingly in comparison with most other adult comedies.
The outrageous sex scene that is the other reason for the R rating is done with imagination rather than exploitation, as it is entirely depicted through the ridiculous facial expressions of the characters involved rather than with nudity and graphic positions. Even when gunplay is involved, characters are shot in a shoulder, a toe or a calf rather than killed in a bloody mess.
"Thief" follows the misadventures of Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman), a Denver-based corporate accountant who finds that his financial identity has been compromised when he unwittingly gives his personal information to a woman claiming to call him from a credit-protection service. Within a day, he is accused of racking up $12,000 in credit card charges and is under arrest for a warrant filed against his name in Florida.
When legal loopholes prevent police from arresting the identity thief, Sandy takes matters into his own hands and tracks down the woman, a plus-sized perpetrator named Diane (Melissa McCarthy). His goal is to bring her back to Denver within a week and have her clear his name so that he doesn't lose his new high-paying job.
He doesn't count on the fact that Diane has angered plenty of other people, and soon they are chased by a bounty hunter, two assassins and a host of law enforcement officials as they drive back to Denver. Mixing together the terrific character comedy and heart of "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" with the sharp comic action of "Midnight Run," "Thief" makes its own mark as a potential comedy classic thanks to the sharp work of Mr. Bateman as a Jack Lemmon-esque Everyman and Miss McCarthy's tour de force blend of wild comedic skills and honest emotion, revealing the heart beneath her hard criminal exterior.
Director Seth Gordon ("Four Christmases," "Horrible Bosses") has vastly improved on his previous work, staging hilarious character comedy and ace action scenes with aplomb. But it's the script by Craig Mazin that is the movie's secret weapon, a tightly wound creation that unspools its surprises perfectly and provides touching lessons in redemption and forgiveness to boot.
This is one "Thief" that viewers should be happy to give their money to.
TITLE: "Identity Thief"
CREDITS: Directed by Seth Gordon, written by Craig Mazin
RATING: R for language and sexual content
RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS