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MOVIE REVIEW: Bateman, McCarthy can’t save the drivel of ‘Identity Thief’

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Identity Thief

(R)

2 out of 4 stars

If you decide you'd like to see what looks to be the first no-fail comedy of 2013, make real sure you don't show up late. In addition to featuring most of the plot that has anything to do with the highly topical title, the overlong opening title sequence contains everything in the movie that is original or funny.

It was inevitable that after stealing every scene in "Bridesmaids" (and nabbing an Oscar nomination in the process), the extra-large, house-of-fire comedienne Melissa McCarthy would be offered similarly slovenly, foul-mouthed parts.

The biggest of many impediments in trying to transfer the color and wigged-out flair of a notable supporting performance is sustaining the comedy quotient as the lead attraction for the duration of a feature-length film. Abrasiveness, poor hygiene (and, in this case, wanton criminal behavior) is cute only in brief spurts. Making it the focus of a torturously long two-hour movie is filmmaking at its most ill-advised.

Perhaps recognizing that a little of this kind of McCarthy goes a long way, director Seth Gordon -- in one of his few instances of leadership clarity -- chose to temper or offset her antics with the deadpan genius of Jason Bateman. The finest comedian of this ilk since Jack Benny, Bateman brings to "Identity Thief" the exact same sort of flustered frustration he lent to the TV series "Arrested Development." Never once delivering a joke or cracking a smile, Bateman is the effective innocent bystander in a yuck-fest strewn with over-the-top performances and highly improbable situations.

At the top, financial drone Sandy (Bateman) is contacted by Diana (McCarthy), a phone-scam artist alerting him that an unspecified account of his has been compromised and he'd better provide her with his date of birth and social security number pronto if he wants to get it fixed. Convinced of her authenticity, Sandy readily obliges her and just like that, Diane becomes the fake Sandy and goes to town with his credit.

Being told by the Denver authorities that they can do nothing because the thief lives in Florida, Sandy makes the first of several unadvised moves by traveling to the Sunshine State and hauling a kicking and screaming Diane back to Colorado for prosecution. Initially mirroring the brilliant comic tension of "Midnight Run," "Identity Thief" rapidly descends into just another generic road flick overstuffed with unimaginative car chases (and subsequent crashes), fleeting numbskull characters and three faux-dangerous bounty hunters (Robert Patrick, Genesis Rodriguez and Atlanta-based rapper T.I.) who all want piece of Diana's hide.

Containing much of the similarly odd-fitting, cringe-inducing "humor" of his previous feature ("Horrible Bosses" -- also starring Bateman), Gordon and screenwriter Craig Mazin ("The Hangover Part II"), mistake broad shtick for sharp slapstick and aim squarely for the lowest common denominator: 18- to 24-year-old males. The big trouble is that is not McCarthy's (or Bateman's) fan base. The bulk of the people who will blindly line up to see "Identity Thief" are "Bridesmaids" devotees and the (almost exclusively older) female followers of McCarthy's (far more genial and mainstream minded) sitcom "Mike & Molly." They are not going to like seeing their angel Melissa portrayed in such a garish and unfavorable light.

To that end, making a comedy about the very serious subject of identity theft is a tough nut to crack and one that might have worked slightly better with just a few tweaks. Instead of going broad, the filmmakers could have chosen the route of biting satire or deep black comedy and reversed the two leads' roles. Instead of the predator, they could have cast McCarthy as the plucky victim -- a hard-working blue collar girl with a heart of gold. For Bateman -- who is very adept at playing sinister -- make him the playboy leader of an ID theft ring that becomes the unsuspecting target of McCarthy's multi-tier revenge. That would have worked -- or at the very least, not been so blatantly brain-dead.

Both leads (and probably Gordon) will recover from what will likely be a less than lukewarm reception for the film and go on to greener pastures. Wasting this kind of talent in such a low-aspiring chunk of drivel is the only thing authentically criminal about "Identity Thief." (Universal)