'Identity Thief' steals a few laughs

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:41 AM ET

For about 60 seconds, Identity Thief is a cautionary tale: Never, ever, ever give pertinent private information to a telephone scammer! Because it can ruin your life.

For the rest of its running time, Identity Thief is a crime caper comedy. Jason Bateman plays a milquetoast Denver accountant scammed by a ballsy femme thief who steals his identity -- including his gender-neutral name Sandy. She goes on a drunken spending rampage in Florida. When she runs afoul of the law, gets arrested and skips bail, it quickly ruins his life. Melissa McCarthy plays the scammer as a compulsive liar and psychotic. Her amorality soon ruins her life, too.

Despite their obvious differences and the absurd circumstances that bring them into contact, the two protagonists end up together in a cross-country, American road-movie misadventure.

A few scenes are giggly funny. Some are just stupid. Some are sexually offensive, including McCarthy's random-stranger tryst and a lot of unnecessary homophobic bullroar about the Bateman character's name. Some are so sappy that Identity Thief feels like a Hallmark greeting card being acted out. If you like that sort of thing, you might enjoy the ending of Identity Thief. Otherwise, the syrup could make you sick.

Add it all up and Seth Gordon's crime caper comedy is a mixed bag of tricks. Just like his previous Hollywood crime caper comedy, Horrible Bosses (2011), which also co-starred Bateman.

I like Bateman as an actor. His run on Arrested Development has been brilliant (and there is a proposed movie coming from the series, perhaps in 2014). He can be caustic and controlled, unlike most of Hollywood's shock comic actors. His lethal weapon is a wicked tongue and a flash of weirdness in the eyes. In this movie, however, Bateman is strictly Mr. Nice Guy, except for a few moments swinging a guitar or some other blunt instrument in defence of life-and-limb. In truth, playing it nice most of the time gets to be boring, making the final act of this movie even more yucky.

As for McCarthy -- who is famous for her Oscar-nominated antics in Bridesmaids -- she is totally caustic and out-of-control about 99% of her screen time. Oddly, playing it crazy most of the time gets to be boring, making the final act of this movie even more unbelievable.

All that said, there are those moments of flat-out funny. This stuff may be low-brow but director Gordon does know how to set up a scene when the material is genuinely comedic. Too bad the silly stuff -- like the trio of bloodthirsty bounty hunters going after our protagonists -- gets in the way. Robert Patrick is among them, playing the hillbilly fool. There is too much plot for a movie that has just a single and slight theme.

Identity Thief is strictly a time-waster -- and way too long at 112 minutes. Comedy crime capers should stop after 90 minutes.

bruce.kirkland@sunmedia.ca


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