By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — As road movies go, this one runs out of gas almost immediately.
Identity Thief is a superficially timely but remarkably unfunny crime comedy about a soft-spoken Denver account executive for a financial firm named Sandy Bigelow Patterson (note the gender-neutral first name) played by Jason Bateman, who has his identity stolen by a con artist, Diana, played by Melissa McCarthy.
This allows her to live it up and buy whatever she wants on the outskirts of Miami. Which she does.
So, to reconcile his quickly crumbling credit score, and because the local police can’t really do anything about it, he goes after her himself, intending to bring her to justice and reclaim his credit-card-dependent life.
Director Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses, Four Christmases, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters) knows that all that matters here is the interaction between Bateman and McCarthy. Unfortunately, however, that produces more dead spots than chuckles.
Bateman, who also served as a producer, surfaced in TV’s “Arrested Development,” then developed as a film actor with lots of strong comedic work including a co-lead in 2011’s Horrible Bosses.
McCarthy, meanwhile, knocked everybody’s socks off in Bridesmaids and was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress. And her role, originally meant for a male, was rewritten and custom-fitted for her.
But their banter and behavior goes off the rails early on and stays there. He’s saddled with playing straight man to her, and whereas her shtick in Bridesmaids worked wonders as a secondary character and had the benefit of the element of surprise, this time she is the female lead, so it unfolds with suffocating predictability.
The screenplay by Craig Mazin, who also co-wrote the story with Jerry Eeten, gives up on the possibilities of his premise almost immediately, as the desperate stretches for laughs become more and more obvious as the film proceeds, resorting to gunplay, violence, car chases and collisions, and bounty hunters and skip tracers — none of which brings as much as a smile.
The contrast between Bateman’s and McCarthy’s comic styles — he with his dry wit and understated consternation, she with her broad line readings and penchant for physical comedy -– should pay comedy dividends. But they do not.
And when, late in the movie and with all kinds of unconscionable shenanigans and worse behind her, McCarthy’s character tells of her problematic childhood and pleads for our understanding and sympathy, it feels like a speech from another movie.
We don’t budge because it’s far too late and she’s far too undeserving.
Identity theft is surely a subject that deserves to be explored on the movie screen. But Identity Thief just trots out the subject and then doesn’t even try. Let’s hope someone else does better with this theme down the line.
So we’ll ID 1½ stars out of 4 for this sputtering cybercrime comedy. Laughs don’t come easily in Identity Thief, which squanders the considerable talents of its comic leads.