'Identity Thief' doesn't steal may laughs

Melissa McCarthy steals the identity of Jason Bateman's character in "Identity Thief," a comedy that could have been better.
Melissa McCarthy steals the identity of Jason Bateman's character in "Identity Thief," a comedy that could have been better.
Posted: February 08, 2013

THEY SAY 90 percent of a movie is casting, and it's at least 99 percent of "Identity Thief."

This a flimsy road movie whose main achievement is to pair cinema's most adroit straight man with its biggest comedy wild card.

Jason Bateman is the former - stoic, unflappable, with the low-key verbal dexterity that makes him a peerless counter-puncher paired with zanier co-stars in movies such as "Horrible Bosses."

Here, he shares the screen with the volatile Melissa McCarthy, a rumbling volcano of out-there energy, the X-factor in movies such as "Bridesmaids" and recently released "This is 40."

The premise, in broad strokes, plays to their strengths. He's a by-the-book Denver accountant; she's the grifter who steals his Social Security number, builds an ID and credit empire in his name, and lives the high life in Florida.

The flimsy set-up has the victim, deserted by law enforcement, making a solo effort to find his nemesis in Florida and bring her back to Denver for a legal reckoning that will restore his good name (it's Sandy, by the way, a name that both genders can inhabit. Her real name is Julia).

So they end up driving across country together, the antic and larcenous Julia getting under the skin of the exasperated Sandy.

The movie relies on slapstick laughs and raunchy humor, the easy-to-reach jokes that substitute for something more ambitious.

There are discarded, unpursued ideas here - a botched bid to contrast Julia's grab-what-you-can ethos with Sandy's "Fountainhead"-reading boss.

And when you see Julia chased by crooks and bounty hunters, you see the movie's ambition to be a male-female riff on "Midnight Run."

In that manner, "Identity Thief" tries to deepen the central relationship, but gets stuck in gooey sentiment.

Still, McCarthy is a force. There is always a place in movies for a big, boisterous comedian, and although it's almost always a man, McCarthy has made this spot her own.

She deserves a better platform than this.


Blog: philly.com/KeepItReel

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