Unlike the title character, the goal of Identity Thief is not to pilfer personal financial information, but to steal time and money from unsuspecting audience members.
It’s a low-brow and predictable road-trip comedy most noteworthy for showcasing comic actor Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) in her first feature starring role. She manages a few big laughs, but it’s difficult to gauge her effectiveness because she’s saddled with a character that’s so shrill, annoying and disconnected with reality.
That’s also a fitting description for the film itself, an uneven mix of elements from Midnight Run and Planes, Trains and Automobiles that doesn’t approach the laughs or pathos of either of those predecessors.
The story opens with Sandy (Jason Bateman), a middle-class family man from Denver, learning his identity has been stolen by a woman whose real name is Diana (McCarthy), a con artist from Florida who is using Sandy’s bank accounts to live a lavish lifestyle. Threatened by the loss of his job and bureaucratic red tape, Sandy hits the road to retrieve Diana himself so the local police can arrest her.
That sets up the road-trip framework, with Sandy and Diana hustling from Florida to Colorado while every conceivable aspect of Sandy’s plan goes awry, whether in hotels or restaurants or on the side of a highway, while the duo is chased by a pair of bumbling hitmen and a redneck debt collector (Robert Patrick).
The film marks the second collaboration between Bateman and director Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses), who works from a script by Craig Mazin (Superhero Movie) that clumsily transitions between moments of broad comedy and ill-conceived stabs at sympathy and redemption regarding Diana’s true back story.
As part of the concept, Diana always has a sob story at the ready to deceive her way out of any jam. Sometimes, the audience isn’t sure if she’s telling the truth, and most often, they won’t care.
The scattered chuckles, while generally crude and obnoxious, might have more resonance if the film had some grounding in authenticity — since, you know, identity theft is a problem that many people have dealt with in real life. But the scenarios and resolutions presented here are recklessly and unnecessarily implausible.
McCarthy manages to elevate the material in her own freewheeling style, but overall, Identity Thief proves that she deserves better.
Rated R, 112 minutes.