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Plugged In Rating
Content Caution
MPAA Rating
Credits
Genre
Comedy
Cast
Jason Bateman as Sandy Patterson; Melissa McCarthy as Diana; Jon Favreau as Harold Cornish; Amanda Peet as Trish Patterson; T.I. as Julian; Genesis Rodriguez as Marisol; Morris Chestnut as Detective Reilly; John Cho as Daniel Casey; Robert Patrick as Skiptracer; Eric Stonestreet as Big Chuck
Director
Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses, Four Christmases)
Distributor
Universal Pictures
In Theaters
February 8, 2013
On Video
June 4, 2013
Reviewer
Paul Asay
Identity Thief

Identity Thief

Meet Sandy Patterson.

He's a happily married man living in Denver, a father of two with a third on the way. He works hard to provide for his family—then sets aside every precious spare nickel he can for a rainy day.

Meet Sandy Patterson.

She's a hard-partying Florida single girl, prone to racking up $2,000 bar tabs and buying multiple blenders, whether she needs 'em or not. Does she have a fancy job that pays for it all? Nah. Sandy (or Maggie or Pam or Darlene or Joan) just has a credit card maker. With just a name and a Social Security number, she manages to tap into strangers' accounts and systematically empty them of every dollar and nickel. She eats rainy-day savings accounts for breakfast.

When she gets arrested for attacking a bartender, she's released on the condition that she'll show up in court on a specified date. Naturally, that day comes and goes, and she doesn't show. So the court issues a warrant for Sandy Patterson … and tracks him down in Denver.

Color Sandy Patterson surprised. It's not every day he's arrested for a crime in a state he's never been to—though it certainly explains why his cards are maxed and his credit rating has been sinking faster than a gangster wearing cement shoes.

It's pretty obvious that Sandy—the real Sandy—isn't guilty. He's been a victim of identity theft, perpetrated by fake Sandy down in Florida. But these sorts of thieves are hard to bust, and all the scandal doesn't sit well with Sandy's new boss. Unless the matter's solved quickly—like, in a week—Daniel's going to let Sandy go.

A week? Why, that's plenty of time for Sandy to track down Sandy! And then it'll just be a matter of convincing her to go back to Denver with him, offer a heartfelt confession and trundle off to jail.

Positive Elements

Sandy Patterson—the real, Denver-based, male version of Sandy Patterson—is a pretty nice guy. He's devoted to his wife, loves his kids and has spent his life working in relative obscurity to put food on the family table. He's a stand-in for us, in a sense—a victim whose life has been ruined by one of society's most insidious crimes. We're supposed to sympathize with the guy, and he's pretty easy to sympathize with.

That's not so much the case with the other Sandy Patterson, aka Diana. In fact, she's a jerk. Nice people don't steal identities, particularly from family men like Sandy. And if her jerkishness wasn't obvious from just that, she also steals and cheats in other ways. She punches people in the throat and sings off key. And she always, always, always lies. Indeed, Sandy wonders whether Diana is even her real name.

Why do I itemize all those very negative things in this "Positive Elements" section? Because as Diana and Sandy travel back to Denver, he begins to see a different side of her—perhaps a side that she herself never saw. Instead of running away the first chance she's given, she sticks around. When he's bitten by a snake, she carries him miles to the nearest bus stop. When a car barrels toward him, she pushes him out of the way—saving his life and risking her own in the process. It's almost as if she's enjoying the trip.

[Spoiler Warning] And as the trip, and the movie, come to a close, we begin to see why. Sandy learns that Diana isn't her real name: She doesn't have one, never learned one. She was abandoned as a baby, bounced through the foster care system, then spent her adult life alone. "There's been no one," she says. "Ever." Sandy—even though he's taking her back to Denver so that she can face criminal justice—is the only one who's ever shown an interest in Diana at all. And when he brings her into his house, she discovers and falls immediately in love with something she's been missing all of her life: a family.

It's a sweet ending to a sour movie. Through the eyes of both Sandy and Diana, we're shown what a precious thing family is and how important it is. And we learn that it's never too late to find one.

Spiritual Content

Here's the closest we get: Conning a waitress into giving her free food, Diana repeatedly says "God bless you." She tells Sandy that she's psychic.

Sexual Content

Diana hooks up with a guy named Big Chuck, telling him that Sandy (whom she says is her impotent husband) likes to watch her with other men. The two do some seriously dirty dancing in a bar. And in a hotel room they engage in wild sex—contorting into unusual positions, among other things. We see their heads and feet; sex is implied by facial expressions, gasps, grunts and dialogue. (Sandy hides in the bathroom for most of this.) The next morning, Diana pulls the covers off Big Chuck, revealing his big behind.

Diana tricks a security officer into kneading her upper thighs and buttocks and other parts, too. She takes a bath, and the implication is that she masturbates in the tub. Several jokes evoke genitalia. We hear references to prostitution.

Diana tells strangers about Sandy's supposedly mangled and inoperative private parts. She tells Sandy's wife (Trish) that he was a perfect gentleman on the trip … using graphic and embarrassing descriptors to say what he didn't do. She shows Sandy's very young daughters how to fend off boys who might want to touch their chests.

Much, much, much more appropriately, on Sandy's birthday Trish tells her husband that he has one more gift to unwrap: her. The two kiss and Sandy carries her out of the frame.

Violent Content

Diana is hit by a car. We see her body fly over the vehicle and land horribly on the asphalt. But once she comes to her senses, she seems fine. Sandy causes a van to crash. It flips several times, leaving Diana's face bloodied. In a separate scene, Sandy's rental car is crushed by a semi. Diana rams Sandy's car.

Sandy is bitten on the neck by a snake. Diana tries to beat the snake off with a flaming stick. A bounty hunter is shot in the neck, leaving a window stained with blood. Two criminal lowlifes get shot in the leg and foot, and then are forced into a car trunk. Several people are punched, grabbed and threatened. Diana hits folks in the neck. A bad guy threatens to burn down a salon. Diana falls on the ground after trying to swing on a chandelier. Several characters engage in humorous slap-fights/wrestling matches. Someone gets Tasered.

Crude or Profane Language

The f-word is used close to 50 times, the s-word another 40 or more. We hear "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "h‑‑‑" and "p‑‑‑." Crude and/or vulgar words are assigned to various body parts. Diana uses an obscene hand gesture. God's name is misused about 25 times, three or four times with "d‑‑n"; Jesus' is abused another half-dozen.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Diana buys more than $2,000 worth of drinks on Sandy's credit card, downing tequila shots, guzzling liquor straight from the bottle and giving booze to all her "friends" at the bar.

"Those aren't your friends," the bartender eventually tells her, explaining why she needs to go home. "They like you because you're buying them drinks." The very drunk Diana won't listen, though, and punches the guy in the throat.

Elsewhere she drinks champagne straight from the bottle while taking a bath. She talks about how driving drunk is OK but driving sleepy is dangerous.

Sandy takes Trish's sedatives with him on his trip, thinking he might have to sedate Diana to get her to Denver. Diana discovers the drugs and pockets them. Later she mixes a cocktail for Big Chuck—plopping a couple of pills in the concoction so she can rob him blind. (She thinks better of giving him the drink when he tells her how he's not been with a woman since his wife died.) Sandy's old boss accuses Sandy (unfairly) of being a drug dealer.

Other Negative Elements

Identity Thief is predicated entirely on the negative element of identity theft. Granted, the movie makes it clear that stealing is wrong … until Sandy and Diana both steal from Sandy's (admittedly horrible) ex-boss. And while both get some comeuppance over the deed, the audience is given a bit of a vengeful thrill over the act itself. Sandy and Diana both flee from authorities.

Diana vomits on a police officer. Several people mock Sandy's name, wondering why he was given a girl's name. Big Chuck, a real estate developer, tells a couple of would-be buyers—one who's African-American, another who's Hispanic—that they'd not be a good fit for his "traditional" community. The residents don't take to either foreigners or racial minorities, he says.

Conclusion

I didn't walk into Identity Thief expecting much good to come from my encounter with it. An R-rated comedy from the makers of the foul film Ted? Yeah, not a film Plugged In's primed to appreciate. So the movie's heart and, dare I say it, sense of justice surprised me. Consider these two (spoiler-minded) moments:

Toward the end of their journey, Sandy has dinner with Diana, telling her that he's learned something from her and admires her drive and aggressiveness. Standard lukewarm, crass-comedy sentimentality, right? But then Diana starts to cry, telling Sandy about how the emptiness in her life helped make her a lousy human being. She's blown away by the care and love Sandy shows for his kids. "I would've done anything for someone like you" to have raised me, Diana tells him. Don't model yourself after me, she says. Don't do yourself that disservice.

When they finally make it to Denver, Sandy decides to not turn Diana in. He'll let her go and pick up the pieces of his own life as best he can, he thinks. But Diana preempts him and goes to the police herself. "I knew you weren't going to turn me in," she tells him as she's led away in handcuffs. "This is the right thing."

And you know what? She's right. In those two scenes, Diana comes face-to-face with her guilt and sin. She repents. And she does what she can to make atonement for her misdeeds. Later, we learn that she's been going to school in prison—taking steps to turn her life around.

Alas, not even that kind of heart can atone for the content we're subjected to here. The language is harsh. The sexuality is crude, rude and socially unacceptable. The violence is stupid-silly. The alcohol abuse is insane. And it bums me out when a movie undercuts a reasonably mature message with a cornucopia of immature content.

Identity Thief reminds me of the graffitied wall of a bathroom stall, where you might find a quote from Mother Teresa wedged between salacious quips and obscene drawings. It may surprise for a moment. It may even inspire. But it doesn't redeem the rest of what we see. The whole thing is still in the toilet.

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