Identity Thief (2013)
111 min., rated R.
Melissa McCarthy is like a female Chris Farley, only funnier. She's a winning, fearless talent ready to run with anything she's given; this is the woman who was willing to "poop" in a sink in "Bridesmaids" and was Oscar-nominated for her hilariously human turn. Paired up with go-to straight man Jason Bateman, the comic firecracker gets her first major vehicle with "Identity Thief," a sour, tiresome road-action-comedy that inspires a revisiting of "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." It's not their fault this probably sounded like a gas on paper but actually comes off as a bummer unworthy of their talent. If only a lazy comedy could scrape along purely by its performers' good will, but they deserve better and so do we.
Again, McCarthy is incredibly game in clowning it up, looking like a crazed beautician, and going over-the-top for a laugh. She is also able to sell authentic emotion, even here, but the scrappy, insubordinate "Diana" is little more than a sketchily defined punchline. Once it pivots into a mismatched-buddy comedy, the film softens and then cheaply takes a gooey, weepy 180-degree turn to try and earn our sympathy for the irritating, life-ruining con artist. Oh, now we're supposed to excuse her behavior and root for her? In arguably the best scene—a dinner between Sandy and a made-over Diana who have called a truce for now—McCarthy subtly pours her heart into telling a painfully sad, dark sob story. We're almost won over because it's all her doing and never relies on pushy musical cues. Alas, it seems to come from a different, smarter, less forced movie and that one moment of remorse and redemption can't really redeem how unpleasant this character has been up until now. Bateman is always an able foil, injecting his sardonic, smart-aleck personality into some of the farcical situations here, but he mostly has to ride shotgun to McCarthy. McCarthy and Bateman ordinarily make comedy look easy, but despite their valiant efforts in punching up pretty dismal material, this misfire misuses them. Just letting these two do their stuff with the cameras rolling would have been more fun to watch. Or, had Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo gotten their hands on the script, maybe then we'd be cooking with gas.
Grade: C -