Movie review: Identity Thief

Crédit photo: AP Photo/Universal Pictures

Starring: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy

Melissa McCarthy is the oversized personality who brought a note of hilarious and obese vulgarity to her biggest movie hit, Bridesmaids. Jason Bateman is an understated performer whose quiet comic frustration conveys a kind of hidden nice-guy insanity.

Neither is meant to be the main course in a film: they’re the spices you add to enrich the comedy. Making them the stars is like trying to create a meal out of nothing but green chilies and vanilla extract. As we used to say back in the 1980s, where’s the beef?

It’s nowhere to be found in Identity Thief, a crude comedy that doesn’t even have the courage of its sociopathy. If you get a kick out of watching an overweight woman punch people in the neck and then waddle off frantically, you might enjoy this film, but even that’s a longshot.

Bateman plays Sandy Patterson, a mild-mannered accountant in Colorado with a lovely wife, two swell kids and a promising new job. It all falls apart when his credit rating is destroyed. It turns out that there’s another Sandy Patterson, a woman in Florida (McCarthy) who has stolen his identity — using a phone scam that wouldn’t fool your Aunt Millie — and is using his forged credit card to buy TVs, furniture, liquor, hairdos, jewelry and so on. Her house looks like the Best Buy warehouse.

Sandy the man has to go to Florida to bring back Sandy the thief, a task made trickier when she becomes the target of two assassins — played by actor-rapper T.I. and Genesis Rodriguez, making them the kind of assassins who might moonlight as fashion models — and a bounty hunter (Robert Patrick) who’s supposed to be rough around the edges.

It’s another version of Midnight Run, speaking of the 1980s: the odd-couple fugitives playing out their amusing quirks, which in this case amount to McCarthy scamming everyone in sight — bystanders immediately fall for her fictions about how the Bateman character is her impotent husband — and Bateman objecting with calm reason. At one stage, he has to lock himself in the bathroom and cover his ears while she has noisy and crude sex with a hefty vulgarian she has picked up in a bar. For the record, the audience at a recent preview screening howled with delight at this development.

From time to time, there’s a moment of inspiration in Identity Thief; for instance, a scene where McCarthy sings along to every song on the radio while a straight-faced Bateman keeps changing the stations. He’s a silent and rational rebuke to her over-exuberance, and it provides one of the few scenes where director Seth Gordon (the OK Horrible Bosses and the horrible Four Christmases) finds a coherent way to blend their styles.

Otherwise, it’s McCarthy doing her neck-punch thing, occasionally leavened with a moment of syrup as the soundtrack collapses into a puddle of empathy. The scene when she realizes that Bateman’s character is a decent guy with cute and loving children is just another false note in a contrived comedy, another link in a tired Hollywood sausage factory, stuffed with sawdust.

2 stars out of 5

Psssttt ! Envoie-ça à ton ami!