At the beginning of Identity Thief, a suspiciously cheery person calls Sandy Bigelow Patterson (Jason Bateman), a hapless accountant at some big-name financial institution. She gives him one of those scammy spiels that you may have heard before on your cell phone, and he falls for it.
Thus starts Identity Thief, a horrible attempt at comedy that wastes the considerable talent of its two leads with a lame, easy script that probably wouldn't be funny if it was compressed into a five-minute short film.
One of those leads is Bateman, who was a revelation as the sarcastic straight man on Arrested Development but who hasn't really made his mark on the big screen yet. The problem seems to be that Bateman's schtick works when he's surrounded by a cast of ridiculous characters -- not just one.
That one in this movie is played by Melissa McCarthy, a boundless ball of kinetic energy which a seventh-grade English teacher would call the main character's "foil." Her character, Diana, has no real friends, so she compensates by illegally ordering shots for entire bars and by filling her house with 14 different types of food processors. When Sandy flies to Florida to capture his identity-stealing culprit and to have her explain herself to his new boss (an absurd premise to begin with), she goes with him because ... well because the movie tells her to go.
They end up having to drive all the way back to Colorado, starting with the requisite highway-buddy-movie scene where the more annoying character sings along to every song that comes on the radio (including "Milkshake," which has pretty much served its purpose in film at this point). There's a subplot involving a bounty hunter (Robert Patrick) and a pair of drug dealers (Genesis Rodriguez and T.I.) who are hunting Diana down -- I think just one would have sufficed, since all three aren't that different from each other outside of their ethnicity and their accents. And whatever lack of momentum the movie had at the halfway point is compounded by an uncomfortable seduction/sex scene with McCarthy and a good ol' boy (Eric Stonestreet) she picks up at a bar.
Nothing's ever that funny; even though McCarthy's willing to do basically anything in the name of physical comedy, director Seth Gordon relegates most of what she does to cheap laughs and gags, like her constant need to punch people in the neck. Even attempts to humanize her character in the overlong second half fall flat, if only because you know that manufactured cuteness doesn't jibe with the cruel sentiment of the rest of the movie. If this is McCarthy's new acting identity, I'll stick to Bridesmaids. Grade: D+
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