Melissa McCarthy, in “Identity Thief,” is the cheeriest crook you’ll ever see. As a grifter who’s stolen the identity of Denver accounts rep Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman), she beams like a daisy in sunshine, trotting down the sidewalk as if she’s breathing happy air. In a role very different from her breakthrough supporting turn in “Bridesmaids,” McCarthy’s a giggly pleasure, with the funniest movie walks (and runs) since Bette Midler. But “Identity Thief” doesn’t know what to do with her: Long before the end, the air’s been let out of her character’s once-bouncy balloon.
Directed by Seattle native Seth Gordon, “Identity Thief” is a tale of two Sandys and a very long road trip. Bateman’s Sandy, a bland but decent fellow, is dismayed to learn that somebody in Florida has stolen his name, identity, credit-card numbers and bank account — and is having way too much fun spending the money. He heads south to corner the other Sandy (whose real name is Diana, maybe) and bring her back to face the Denver police — no, this doesn’t make a lot of sense in the movie either — but their long ride back is complicated by a bounty hunter, a pair of crooks seeking revenge and Sandy/Diana’s weakness for men in bolo ties.
With a better screenplay, the mix of McCarthy’s ebullience and Bateman’s sardonic regular-guyness might have been a kick, but there just aren’t enough laughs in “Identity Thief.” So McCarthy throws a lot of punches at people’s necks, and gets thrown around in a way that quickly becomes off-putting. (Why do this to the movie’s most — no, only — adorable character?) Meanwhile, a new finance company where Denver Sandy hopes to work magically materializes overnight (things come and go very quickly in this movie, like in Oz), and Sandy/Diana gets a makeover and turns all vulnerable and weepy, as if she were suddenly teleported into a different movie, and a really alarming snake turns up for no particular reason.
“Identity Thief” is mostly noteworthy for reminding us that McCarthy’s talents can, indeed, carry a comedy. It’s too bad that it had to be this one.
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Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org