It’s a Crime

Bad jokes and familiar plot rob what could have been a classic road trip/mismatched buddy comedy

Diana (Melissa McCarthy) is living the good life in Miami after stealing the identity of Sandy Bigelow Patterson (Jason Bateman) in “Identity Thief,” directed by Seth Gordon.
Universal Pictures

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Bateman

Directed by: Seth Gordon

Stars: 1 1/2 out of 4

Rating: R

If you’re looking for a good road trip comedy, try one of these:

“Midnight Run” (1988): Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin star as a bounty hunter and fugitive, respectively, being chased across the country by mobsters, U.S. marshals and another bounty hunter.

“The Blues Brothers” (1980): John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, in their Jake and Elwood Blues personas from “Saturday Night Live,” are on a mission (from God) to save the Catholic boarding school where they were raised.

“Little Miss Sunshine” (2006): The Hoover family is determined to get 7-year-old Olive to the Little Miss Sunshine pageant, even when they all have to cram into their aging VW bus for the trip.

“Planes, Trains and Automobiles” (1987): Steve Martin and John Candy are stranded businessmen desperately trying to get home for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Given the large number of people who have fallen victim to identity thieves, convincing audiences to accept one as a loveable lead character in a film was going to be an uphill battle.

The first part of “Identity Thief” is painful to watch and not particularly funny, as we see Jason Bateman’s Sandy Bigelow Patterson duped and victimized by Melissa McCarthy, who has assumed his identity. The movie tries to evoke laughs while she runs up a bar tab in the thousands, goes on a spending spree and gets arrested in his name. Meanwhile, the real Sandy is dutifully and ignorantly home in Denver, paying his bills and caring for his wife and two daughters. But it doesn’t work. Anyone who's ever experienced identity theft would only become angry watching these crimes — no matter how charming McCarthy can be.

Ultimately, the film’s limited success comes when these two divergent characters — the conservative, naïve family man and the worldly, scheming con artist — are forced to work together.

The real Sandy faces the archaic realities of law enforcement, which can’t help him in a timely manner to avoid the ruination of his life, so he goes on a quest to drag the criminal from Florida to Denver to be arrested.

The movie does manage a few laughs at his inept initial attempts to detain her for the return trip, most of which we've already seen in TV trailers. His plan is aided by the fake Sandy’s sudden need to flee Florida to escape two Miami hitmen (a hitman and hitwoman, actually) who are chasing the con artist, “Diana,” for selling their boss’ unusable fake credit cards.

Once the real Sandy realizes that they won’t be able to clear airport security with the same name and birthdate on their IDs, they know it’s time to get behind the wheel. Throw in some outstanding arrest warrants, a limited supply of cash and a redneck bounty hunter (Robert Patrick) trying to catch them before the Miami hit couple does, and you have the makings for a classic road trip/mismatched buddy comedy.

Unfortunately, “Identity Thief” doesn’t deliver. The film is largely low-brow humor with a lot of sex jokes and fat jokes and various forms of humiliation comedy. Bateman and McCarthy are talented and likeable stars who milk the most they can out of a pretty dismal script.

There really aren’t many surprises along the way. It’s clear Diana will continue to manipulate Sandy until enough bad things happen to force them to pair up and create an unlikely bond.

It’s nearly identical to what we’ve seen in better, funnier movies.

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