Starring Melissa McCarthy, Jason Bateman. Written by Steve Conrad. Directed by Seth Gordon. 14A. 108 min. Opens Feb. 8.
Hollywood’s most skilled and fearless physical comedian since Jim Carrey in his ’90s heyday, Melissa McCarthy is so dogged in her efforts to eke out a laugh that it’s depressing to see a movie treat her as shabbily as this one does. The first full-fledged screen vehicle for the Bridesmaids breakout and Mike & Molly star, Identity Thief is a half-witted road comedy that seems perpetually prone to engine failure. However ploddingly paced and poorly contrived, it still manages to deliver a few bravura moments when it isn’t stalling out.
Better things might have also been expected from co-star Jason Bateman and director Seth Gordon, who previously teamed on the similarly daft but sufficiently amusing Horrible Bosses. Here, Bateman once again sticks to his patented straitlaced-straight-man routine as Sandy Patterson, a white-collar working stiff whose career is derailed when his identity is swiped by Diana (McCarthy), a blowsy con woman living the good life on his credit cards in Florida. When he tracks her down in hopes of delivering her back home to Denver to clear his name, she proves to be far more than he can handle. Joining this odd couple on their northward journey is a variety of unsavoury types with their own scores to settle, including Robert Patrick as a scraggly skip tracer.
Ideally, all the storyline needs to do is enable McCarthy to cause a ruckus. She certainly obliges with various booze-sodden escapades, several rather horrific-looking car accidents and one loud and smutty sex scene with (and underneath) Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet. But the rest of the movie is an even lumpier mess than whatever comes out of her during the requisite, Bridesmaids-style upchuck gag.
While many early scenes flirt with the Coen brothers’ more violent brand of madcap capers, Gordon ditches the movie’s darker strains—and some equally discomfiting reminders of hard times in recession-era America—once our mismatched characters finally get around to bonding. The fact that McCarthy pulls off her big, mushy dramatic moment as well as she handles her pratfalls is further proof that she deserves a better showcase.