A new movie that is, as they say, coming to a theater near you (or may already be playing) treats its subject matter in a way that concerns me.
The movie is entitled "Identity Thief," and it stars Emmy winner and Oscar nominee (for "Bridesmaids") Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman. I have not seen the movie, but I have seen ads for it and I have read the production notes, so I have a good idea what it is all about.
Ms. McCarthy as "Diana" is an identity thief living the high life in suburban Miami. She is an Internet queen of retail buying. She orders what she wants, when she wants it, and never pays a cent because she is using other people's credit cards and identities.
One of the IDs she has stolen belongs to Bateman's character, a Denver-based "accounts rep." He's up for a big new job but will not get it because of all the unpaid bills the McCarthy character has rung up with his stolen identity. So he tracks her down and goes to Miami to bring her back home with him so she can confess and clean his record. He convinces her and, for some reason, they decide to make the trip by car. So off they go and, as they say, hilarity ensues.
The production notes indicate that along the way he gets her to see that she needs to abandon her evil ways. The movie wants the audience to root for this thief with the proverbial heart of gold. As the production notes say, "She's totally menacing and can do some horrible things, but she does it with such heart that you can't help but root for her. Diana's clearly out of control, but she does it in a way that you're going to want her to win and want her to change."
That is well and good, but what concerns me is the apparent way the character is portrayed initially as she lives like a queen on someone else's nickel, and is not only not bothered by her life of crime, but seems to revel in it.
Identity theft is not funny to its victims, as Bateman's character's dilemma does show. It is certainly not a victimless crime.
It is also not funny to prosecutors, judges and juries.
Hardly a day goes by I don't see a news story about some identity thief being sentenced to stiff jail terms.
In recent days Pyong "Peter" Pak, the head of an identity theft ring in Hawaii, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison. It is not funny to Andrew Watts, a Barbados national, who was sentenced in Florida to 7-1/2 years in prison for mail fraud and two additional years for aggravated identity. It is certainly not funny to Alci Bonannee of Fort Lauderdale, who faces a possible prison sentence of up to 351 years as the head of an identity theft ring that netted $11 million in federal tax refunds, and involved the filing of approximately 2,000 fraudulent tax returns.
One message this movie seems to send is how easy it is to steal someone else's identity. My fear is that is the message that many of the moviegoers will come away with after viewing “Identity Thief”. That is really the wrong message any movie should be giving.