By Michael Phillips 2016-06-17

By Michael Phillips

Tribune Newspapers Critic

1 1/2 stars

Debilitatingly witless, "Identity Thief" strands Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman on the shoulder of its own road-trip premise, an artificial construct reminiscent of "Due Date." Remember "Due Date," that sour thing with Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis? Neither do Downey and Galifianakis.

The screenwriter of "Identity Thief," Craig Mazin, gave us "The Hangover Part II." All these pictures belong to the same realm of exhausted, mean-spirited comedy, pushing casually sadistic mayhem in the guise of slapstick, destined to make millions on the backs of its actors. You can't really talk about any of these pictures in terms of their comic machinery because, at heart, they're barely comedies. They're situations in search of comedy.

All McCarthy has to do is show up, and the audience likes her, even when the audience is supposed to hate her, or when "Identity Thief" treats her character -- a brazen Florida con woman living large on the Visas of others -- like a feral, subhuman pathos dispenser.

When Denver accounts representative Sandy Patterson, played by Bateman, discovers his identity has been purloined and his credit cards are maxed out, trashing his good name, his employer (John Cho) declares him a bad risk for their startup company. Sandy is given one week to retrieve the con woman; bring her to Denver, all the while being tailed by drug dealers and a murderous bounty hunter; and turn her over to the police, thereby clearing up the mess the script tries so hard to establish gracefully.

We're meant to see Diana, McCarthy's character, as a funny/sad victim of circumstance, whose suburban Orlando home is stuffed with ill-gotten blenders and makeup, with a Jet Ski in the front yard. Sandy, her temperamental opposite, is presented as a milquetoast family man (Amanda Peet plays his blandly defined wife, whom we know only as someone who takes Xanax) whose backbone emerges, battered but for the better, during his treacherous road trip with Diana.

Bateman's a seriously skillful actor. But with inferior material, his fallback line reading becomes the sardonic, too-cool-for-the-room underreaction, which isn't the same thing as "milquetoast." He has the air of a cynical but bored winner, a man fighting his own irritation with everyone around him. That's not quite right for the audience-identification figure at the center of "Identity Thief."

As in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," the adversary we think we know at the outset (John Candy there, McCarthy here) is revealed to be something different and heartbreaking by the end. How a movie gets from A to Z is the question. "Identity Thief" paints Florida as a snake-infested (literally; there's a scene with a snake crawling up Bateman's pants) hotbed of prejudice and racism, and American screen comedy as little more than people shooting other people in the cheek or the foot, or someone getting smashed in the face with a guitar.

Director Seth Gordon made "Horrible Bosses," which was actually cruder than this movie though quite funny and nicely plotted. This time, Gordon is lost, and his style of shooting -- telescopic close-ups, which never give us enough space to appreciate the performers -- feels wrong for comedy. By the time McCarthy punches somebody in the throat for the fifth time, and the inevitable Taser sight gag gets recycled, "Identity Thief" has challenged the best abilities of everybody on-screen, including Eric Stonestreet, Cam on "Modern Family," as a barfly on the make. Crud has a way of doing that.

MPAA rating: R (for sexual content and language).

Running time: 1:51.

Cast: Jason Bateman (Sandy Patterson); Melissa McCarthy (Diana); Amanda Peet (Trish); John Cho (Daniel Casey).

Credits: Directed by Seth Gordon; written by Craig Mazin, Jerry Eeten and Steve Conrad; produced by Bateman, Pamela Abdy, Peter Morgan and Scott Stuber. A Universal Pictures release.

Back to Movie Details

Movie News

In this image released by Lionsgate, Tyler Perry portrays Madea in a scene from, "Tyler Perry's Boo! A Madea Halloween." (Daniel McFadden/Lionsgate via AP)
Tyler Perry's 'Madea' tops Cruise's 'Jack Reacher' sequelTyler Perry has scared off Tom Cruise at the box office
The Associated Press2 hours ago
In this Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016 photo, a jury member prepares to award the Sunbird Short Film Award trophy to Palestinian producer May Odeh  for the film entitled “Izriqaq (Blued),” during the Days Of Cinema awards ceremony, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Filmlab, a Palestinian nonprofit backed by European partners, has launched a new cinema prize in an attempt to encourage the local filmmaking industry and cinema culture in the Palestinian territories. The film organization hopes the “Sunbird Prize” will become the Palestinian version of the Oscars. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
Palestinians aim to promote local cinema with new awardA Palestinian film organization has launched a new cinema prize in an attempt to encourage the local filmmaking industry and cinema culture in the Palestinian territories
The Associated Press4 hours ago
FILE - In this Sept. 16, 2016 file photo, Donald Glover attends the Variety Magazine and Women in Film 2016 Television Nominees Celebration in West Hollywood, Calif. Disney announced Friday, Oct. 21, that Glover will play Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Han Solo “Star Wars” film. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)
Donald Glover cast as Lando Calrissian in Han Solo filmDonald Glover will play Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Han Solo "Star Wars" film.
The Associated Press1 day ago
Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan with his wife Jaya Bachchan poses for the photographers during the photo call of the opining ceremony of MAMI 18th Mumbai film festival in Mumbai, India, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. (The eight day long festival will screen 175 films, including features, documentaries and short films from 54 countries. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)
Mumbai film fest opens amid protests over Pakistani talentThe Mumbai Film Festival has opened this week amid protests against Pakistani talent
The Associated Press2 days ago
FILE - In this Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016 file photo, actor Tom Hanks arrives to receive a lifetime achievement at the Rome Film Festival, in Rome. Within the manic action of "Inferno," the latest big-screen adaptation of a Dan Brown thriller, is a warning about the dangers of seeking simple solutions to complex problems. Star Tom Hanks says it’s a theme with echoes in the current U.S. presidential race. "Inferno" sets Hank's polymathic professor Robert Langdon on the trail of a deadly plague concocted by billionaire scientist Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) out of a sort of warped humanitarianism: He plans to end war, poverty and famine by wiping out half the world's population. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, file)
Tom Hanks sees US election warning in thriller 'Inferno'Embedded within the manic action of "Inferno," the latest big-screen adaptation of a Dan Brown thriller, is a warning about the dangers of seeking simple solutions to complex problems
The Associated Press2 days ago
Movie News