Frank's Faves: Identity theft movies

Frank's Faves: Identity theft movies

"Could it be that somebody else is looking into my mind some other place, somewhere, some other time?" — The Alan Parsons Project

It was bound to happen sooner or later, and this week, it finally did. My wife and I were the victims of identity theft for the first time. Someone hacked my wife's account at a certain nationwide retail chain which shall remain nameless (but seriously, it was way too easy, Walmart), and purchased a couple of fancy-shmancy jet-powered blenders for $600 or so.

Yeah, I know, right? Who the heck needs a $300 blender?

No, wait, hold the emails. That was a rhetorical question. I wasn't offering. In fact, the aforementioned nationwide retail chain which shall remain nameless reacted quickly and efficiently enough to cancel the order before it was delivered (thank you very much, Walmart) and restore the money to our bank account almost to the second that our bank was doing the same thing on their end. Electronic efficiency to the max!

And that's the wonder of the thing, I suppose. Sure, in this, the Digital Age, such a scarily faceless, yet invasive crime is not at all uncommon, nor difficult to commit, but neither is it hard to detect, intercept and rectify. At the push of a computer key and the blink of an eye, what was stolen is retrieved and/or restored, and the all-seeing eye of the cyber security that makes such wonders possible is already scouring the internet for the digital trail of the ID thief who punked us.

Woe to that chucklehead. I mean, really! If you got the keys to someone's purchasing power, would a pair of 3.5-horsepower mixers be the first thing on your list?

Not that I'm an expert on the criminal mind. Truth be told, I have a lot more experience as victim. This may have been my first time as a target of identity theft, but it's far from my first rodeo in the circus of grand larceny. I've had stuff swiped from me literally everywhere I've ever lived.

Perhaps my earliest experience with getting ripped off was back while growing up in Kankakee. I recall returning home from a family vacation to find our house had been burglarized and ransacked while we were gone. Nothing much taken, but a considerable mess to clean up greeted our return. I remember thinking then that the biggest wrong the crooks had done us was the downer with which they had punctuated the end of an otherwise good time. Talk about a spoiler!

But maybe the dirtiest deed done to me personally happened just a month after I landed my first newspaper job in Havana, Ill. I rented a storefront apartment right across the street from the county courthouse (and the sheriff's office) and just around the corner from the police station. Yet, location, location, location apparently isn't all it's cracked up to be, as the ink barely had time to dry on my first month's rent check when someone kicked open the door to my apartment one day while I was at work and walked out with my stereo receiver, cassette deck and tuner, and about half of my tapes in broad daylight. And no one saw a thing. Grrrrr.

So, yeah, I'm well-acquainted with thievery — including the electronic kind now — enough to know that it only pays at the box office, and it's only fun in the movies, especially these:

MY FIVE FAVORITE IDENTITY THEFT MOVIES ...

— "The Net" (1995). Sandra Bullock plays a reclusive computer programmer who is given a new internet program that allows her to access highly classified government files — and of course, puts her and all those connected to her in mortal danger (including her best friend, played by the ever-snarky Dennis Miller). But the worst thing to befall her is when she returns from a vacation to find all records of her life have been erased. Her Social Security number has been assigned to another woman with a criminal record; her credit cards are invalid; her home is empty and listed for sale; and she is wanted by the police. It's the internet update of the classic Hitchcock thriller with Bullock as the Innocent Person Wrongly Accused (as Roger Ebert aptly classified it), and more than its share of implausibilities. Still, it works. And the heroine's post-vacation ordeal seems vaguely familiar.

— "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (1999). Matt Damon plays the title shyster whose talents are mainly lying, forgery and impersonation. He does this well enough to eliminate and replace Jude Law's character, then starts to run afoul of his own web of deception and is obliged to kill off one potential threat after another to maintain it. There has been a mini-genre of films about people who coveted someone else's life so much they tried to steal it — "Single White Female" (1992) and "The Skeleton Key" (2005) leap to mind — but this one's my pick for the creepiest.

— "Face/Off" (1997). Nicolas Cage and John Travolta both get to play hero and villain, alternately, as sworn enemies — an FBI agent and a terrorist — who undergo facial transplants and assume each other's appearance, and identity, in this sci-fi actioner from director John Woo. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say it sure looked like both of these notoriously hammy actors were having a lot more fun while playing the bad guy.

— "The Bourne Identity" (2002). The first entry in the spy thriller series based on the Robert Ludlum novels stars Matt Damon as the title amnesiac who personifies identity theft in reverse when he finds the memory taken from him is not one he wants to regain — even though he needs it to stay alive.

— "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1978). Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams star in the best remake of the ultimate movie about identity theft on a global scale: Alien pod people pull it off. You snooze, you lose — literally.

... AND MY FIVE FAVORITE MOVIE HEISTS

— "The Italian Job" (2003). Intelligent plotting, snappy dialogue and a superb ensemble cast, including Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Jason Statham and Donald Sutherland, ramp up this remake about a team of thieves planning a gold heist as payback for a former associate's doublecross.

— "Gone in 60 Seconds" (2000). Nicolas Cage plays a car thief forced to steal 50 luxury vehicles in one night to save the life of his brother while dodging police and rival thieves. But he has some quality help in Angelina Jolie and Robert Duvall.

— "To Catch a Thief" (1955). Cary Grant and Grace Kelly sparkle in this Alfred Hitchcock suspense thriller.

— "The Pink Panther" (1963). Peter Sellers, David Niven and Robert Wagner star in director Blake Edwards' caper classic that launched arguably the best comedy franchise ever. Obviously, it's not the genius of the diamond theft that makes this one memorable, it's the comic collaboration of Sellers and Edwards in the first of six films they'd make together.

— "Ocean's Eleven" (2001). George Clooney bags one of the best cast of crooks ever to rob three Las Vegas casinos simultaneously in this remake of the 1960 Rat Pack vehicle.

BONUS: "The Great Train Robbery" (1978). The headliners alone — Sean Connery, Lesley-Anne Down and Donald Sutherland — make this a fave.

Topics (1):Film
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