BEFITTING a comedy with lots of knock-down, drag-out fights, watching Identity Thief is often a struggle.
Its very premise induces stress. Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) is a nice-guy accounts manager, a Denver family man with a couple of kids and another one on the way. You would think an accounts manager wouldn't be susceptible to an obvious phone scam but Sandy falls prey and gives up personal information to Diana (Melissa McCarthy), a Florida scam artist.
Capable of creating her own credit cards and fake IDs, Diana (using her victim's conveniently androgynous name) proceeds to ring up thousands of dollars on Sandy's account. When she uses her card to buy drinks for everyone in a Miami bar, we note a certain desperation in Diana as she tries to buy friends with someone else's money.
The credit card activity filters back to the real Sandy, who suddenly finds his job in as much jeopardy as his credit rating. The police basically tell him he would have to retrieve the fake Sandy from Florida in order to save his good name. Desperate, Sandy obliges and heads to Florida, reasoning that a harmless-looking woman dressed in Kmart couture shouldn't be too difficult to control.
But if you've seen McCarthy in Bridemaids you know she can be a formidable adversary.
Sandy learns this the hard way, discovering first-hand Diana's tendency to punch people in the throat, slip out of handcuffs with the ease of a Houdini and con her way out of any situation. When she finds herself pursued by a psychotic skip-tracer (Robert Patrick) and a couple of gun-toting assassins (Genesis Rodriguez and T.I.), Diana contrives to go along with Sandy to save her own butt.
One of the problems of the movie is that, as charming an actress as McCarthy can be, Diana is a horrible person. As the man behind the 2011 comedy Horrible Bosses, director Seth Gordon knows horrible. But even he is hard pressed to make Diana likable. When she reveals her tragic back story -- a scene that shows McCarthy's to considerable dramatic chops -- it isn't enough to make us forget her blithely sociopathic behaviour.
Bateman keeps up his end. Wedged again into the role of straight man, Bateman employs a great comic slow-burn that is unfortunately too close to his character in Horrible Bosses to be distinct. (Bateman was such a marvellously funny reprobate in the movie Smokin' Aces, you wonder why he is so quick to take on the straighter roles.)
On the strengths of its two stars, Identity Thief does manage to give a lift to the tension headache-inducing material. But if you're looking for a relaxing diversion, you might be better advised to stay home, pay some bills and maybe scrutinize your MasterCard statement.
Selected excerpts of reviews of Identity Thief:
"Melissa McCarthy is a gimmick comedian who has devoted her short career to being obese and obnoxious... Poor Jason Bateman. How did an actor so charming, talented, attractive and versatile get stuck in so much dreck?"
-- Rex Reed, New York Observer
"McCarthy is riveting in simply penned moments of remorse and confession, adding tearful depth to her ace timing and formidable physical comedy.
- R. Kurt Osenlund, Slant
"Debilitatingly witless, Identity Thief strands Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman on the shoulder of its own road-trip premise, an artificial construct reminiscent of Due Date.
- Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
Starring Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy
Grant Park, Kildonan Place, McGillivray, McGillivray VIP, Polo Park, St. Vital, Towne.
2 1/2 out of five stars