McCarthy's talent can take 'Identity Thief' only so far

Feb. 08, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Identity Thief

Grade: C +

Director: Seth Gordon

Starring: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Jon Favreau, Amanda Peet, T.I. and Genesis Rodriguez

MPAA Rating: R

Running Time: 1 hr. 41 min.

In keeping with a movie premised around someone adopting a false identity, there’s not a moment of “Identity Thief” that rings true or logical. It starts in minute one, when Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman), the accounting head of a Denver, Colo. investment firm, mindlessly provides his name, date of birth and Social Security number to a stranger who cold calls him offering credit fraud protection. The huckster on the other end of the line is Diana (Melissa McCarthy), a portly, Tammy-haired grifter in Windermere, Fla. who subsists by creating fake credit cards using other people’s personal information, and then runs up huge tabs along with other nefarious acts.

Sandy realizes he is Diana’s latest mark once Denver PD arrest him for a Florida warrant actually intended for Diana, apparently without first checking either her mug shot, fingerprints, height, weight or the sex of the actual perpetrator. Yet, even once this criminal entanglement is sorted out, the local police inform Sandy that they are powerless to, I dunno, take a report, or pick up the phone and alert Windermere authorities, or do detective work. So, the only way for Sandy to save his job—even though his employer KNOWS he’s the victim of identity theft—is to jet to Florida, track down Diana and coerce her back to Denver to confess her sins to Sandy’s boss and the eavesdropping cops.

Confused yet? Don’t worry, “Identity Thief” gets more mind-numbing once Sandy and Diana embark on a cross-country road trip, pursued by a bounty hunter (Robert Patrick) and a couple of hitmen (T.I. and Genesis Rodriguez) whose narrative function is actually less clear by film’s end. But narrative clarity isn’t exactly screenwriter Craig Mazin’s strong suit (“The Hangover II,” “Scary Movie 3 & 4”). Sandy has to keep the slippery Diana in his sight at all times during their trip, until he doesn't. Diana is crass and cold-hearted, until she isn't. Sandy is a straight arrow, until he isn’t (a legal predicament that evaporates far too easily and illogically). Diana is a depressed loner who can’t find anyone willing to love her for who she is, until she does ... and then leaves him.

It's typical, slow-burn Bateman, but McCarthy is the real reason anybody’s forking over money to watch this scam. There's something infectious about her brazen audacity, and it's little surprise that she throws herself — often literally — into even this thinly written role. Still, a torrent of non sequiturs and outdated hip-hop — there are two gags involving Kelis’ “Milkshake” — can carry a performance only so far.

The true eye opener of “Identity Thief” are a couple of tender moments, totally unearned by the script, that McCarthy nevertheless converts into a window into her still untapped talent. One scene takes place after Diana undergoes a massive makeover, an appropriate metaphor for how the red-haired McCarthy — already an Oscar nominee for the bawdy “Bridesmaids” and the latest heiress-presumptive to Lucille Ball — might one day reap further accolades outside the comedy arena.