What a bummer. At first glance, the "Identity Thief" lineup of fearless physical performer Melissa McCarthy and rock-solid straight man Jason Bateman feels like a dream team, an inspired combination of volcanic zaniness and timorous passivity that promises to alchemize into comic quicksilver.
Well, not so fast. "Identity Thief" turns out to be not so much a major drag as a minor irritant, the kind of instantly forgettable nothing-burger for which the early months have become notorious. A desultory collection of slapstick gags, buddy-movie cliches, chase-sequence bombast and wan topical humor, "Identity Thief" is soon destined to play on an airplane screen near you, the better to elicit one or two bemused glances in between checking the in-flight route map and ordering that second ginger ale.
Things get off to a sluggish, inattentive start when Bateman's character, a bank manager named Sandy Patterson, receives a telephone call from a cheerful financial security operator who persuades him to give her his Social Security number. Within a few hours, this flame-haired, generously built, unrepentantly amoral con artist is buying tequila shots for dozens of bar patrons in Winter Park, Fla.
Through negotiations too convoluted and preposterous to divulge, the real Sandy eventually sets off to Florida to find the fake Sandy, a junket that turns into a "Midnight Run"-type chase from all manner of petty criminals, bounty hunters, cops and corporate bosses. Sharing the same road-trip DNA as the similarly misbegotten "The Guilt Trip," "Identity Thief" confects as many opportunities as possible to exploit McCarthy's well-padded figure, from having her belly flop on to a cold, hard floor, engage in a sweaty one-night stand with a good ol' boy played by Eric Stonestreet and make feeble passes at Bateman's befuddled Sandy, who makes his revulsion clear in deadpan glances worthy of Jack Lemmon.
"Identity Thief" seeks to balance the near-constant stream of cruelty with a last-ditch attempt at humanizing McCarthy's character, giving her a physical and emotional make-over that, true to the film's ethos, doesn't last long. (For those keeping lists at home, the film was written by Craig Mazin, who wrote "The Hangover II," and directed by Seth Gordon.) Soon enough she's back to her old tricks -- slugging people in the throat and getting Tasered for her trouble.
McCarthy's willingness to go to the mat notwithstanding, it's viewers who are likely left feeling punched in the gut.
"Identity Thief" (111 minutes) is rated R. Contains sexual content and profanity.