Reviews: 'Identity Thief' and 'Side Effects'
Richard Crouse, Canada AM film critic
Published Thursday, February 7, 2013 10:23AM EST
Last Updated Friday, February 8, 2013 7:35AM EST
IDENTITY THIEF: 1 ½ STARS
There is nothing funny about identity theft. The nefarious practice of pretending to be someone else for profit has exploded in the Internet era and ruined many lives. But if the adage ‘tragedy plus time equals humor’ is true, then perhaps it’s time for an R-rated comedy about a man who finds himself saddled with a stranger’s debt to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.
After struggling midlevel executive Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) foolishly divulges his credit card information over the phone to Diana (Melissa McCarthy) she steals his identity and quickly racks up five-digit debt on his cards. When the cops in his home state of Colorado inform him they can’t do anything unless she comes Denver, he goes to Florida, finds her and vows to drive her back, across country, to justice.
There is suspension of disbelief. Then there’s stretching the limits of believability. And then there is whatever you need to fully cope with the outlandish plot of “Identity Thief.” I don’t demand that my movies make perfect sense. Far from it. If I’m into the story I can overlook some leaps in logic. But the plot twists here simply don’t work. For one thing, I guess simply cancelling the stolen credit cards lacks comedic possibilities, but it would have been the right thing to do and would have spared us this mostly unfunny “comedy.”
If you struggle past the ludicrous situations, the unisex jokes - almost every single character comments on how Sandy sounds like a girl’s name - the unnecessary subplot about two hired killers (T.I. and Genesis Rodriguez) hot on the tail of our fugitives and the desperately underused comedic stylings of the usually hilarious Eric Stonestreet and John Cho, you’re left with a stitched together series of events that happen not because they work as a story, but because they set up situations in which stars Batman and McCarthy can do their thing.
McCarthy’s timing is perfect. Over dinner when she’s asked, “Do you know what a sociopath is?” She replies, “Do they like ribs?” Not a great gag but her timing sells it. Imagine what she might have done with actual jokes. Ditto Bateman.
Like “Due Date,” another recent ill-fated road movie with a likable cast - Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis - “Identity Thief” is another road comedy flatter than a long stretch of highway.
SIDE EFFECTS: 2 ½ STARS
Steven Soderbergh, the Oscar winning director of “Traffic” and nominee for “Erin Brockovich,” is one of the most versatile filmmakers working today. From the art house pleasures of “Che: Parts 1 and 2” to the blockbuster business he did with “Ocean’s 11, 12 and 13” to the introspection of “The Girlfriend Experience,” he’s a master of all genres.
Add to that list “Side Effects,” a new pharmaceutical thriller starring Rooney Mara and Jude Law, which brings the immaculate filmmaking of the above mentioned titles to a potboiler plot that feels like its been sitting on Soderbergh’s to-do list since 1985.
When we first meet Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) it’s just days before her husband (Channing Tatum) is to be released from a four-year-prison stint for insider trading. Their life is about to go back to normal, but it soon becomes clear that Emily is troubled. A suicide attempt brings her to the attention of psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). She tells him of her lifelong struggle with depression - “a poisonous fog bank that rolls over her mind” - and he prescribes a new drug to help her find equilibrium.
“It doesn’t make you anything you aren’t,” he tells her. “It just makes it easier to be yourself.”
The side effects of the drug, however, include nausea and vomiting, allergic reactions, drowsiness, sleepwalking and criminal behavior. Emily’s erratic conduct while on the drug not only turns her life upside down, but Dr. Banks’s as well.
Saying any more than that would take some of the pleasure away from letting the plot unfold. Besides, detailing the ins-and-outs of the twisty-turny script by Scott Z. Burns would take up the rest of the space I have allotted for this review. You can’t accuse Soderbergh of scrimping on dramatic plot developments, but is it too much?
It all feels very much like the thrillers that used to pack ‘em in at the local bijou in the mid-eighties. Movies like “Jagged Edge” that featured unpredictable plots and elaborate confession montages.
So while it is true that Soderbergh can’t be faulted for not including enough texture in the story, it must also be noted that layers for the sake of layers isn’t always a good thing. The story, which could have been an interesting comment on a broken medical system, or professional misconduct, instead becomes unnecessarily cluttered.
The performances, however, are uniformly great. Quick! Somebody buy Mara some Gatorade because she sheds a river of tears - no, make that an ocean - in a performance that is understated but chillingly effective.
Law is terrific as a man whose life is almost torn apart. Luckily he’s left the horrible fake teeth of “Contagion,” his last outing with Soderbergh, at home, replacing them with serious chops playing a man racked with paranoia and anger.
“Side Effects” is a confounding movie because it is beautifully made. Soderbergh strings us along so well in the first hour only to allow the melodrama to win out in the last reel.