The most heinous crime of “Identity Thief” is its malicious waste and robbery of 112 minutes in a most thoughtless manner. It should also face charges for misusing the abilities of the very talented Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman, who valiantly attempt to elevate this thoroughly dull road-trip comedy, only to be undercut at every turn by Craig Mazin’s dreary script and the pedestrian direction by Seth Gordon (“Horrible Bosses,” “Four Christmases”).
It’s a premise that offers at least some promise: Financial analyst and middle manager Sandy Patterson (Bateman) has his identity stolen by professional con artist Diana (McCarthy), who takes advantage of the fact that Sandy has what everyone in the film calls a “girl’s name.” (It’s a gag that’s mildly funny once, but the movie turns to it again and again with increasing desperation.)
The movie’s cuckoo-land logic demands that Sandy travel from Colorado to Florida to force Diana to come back with him and confess to her crimes, leading to a laborious road trip in which they are chased by a bounty hunter (Robert Patrick) and two gun-toting criminals (Genesis Rodriguez and rapper T.I.), all of whom are pursuing Diana for reasons that are barely explained.
Along the way, of course, Sandy and Diana go from being adversaries to buddies, with Diana breaking down at various points to sob over the fact that her life of crime is merely a band-aid for her abandonment issues and lack of friends. It’s in these boo-hoo moments that “Identity Thief” does the most damage to McCarthy; if this role were being played by, say, Will Ferrell or Jim Carrey or Vince Vaughn or Zach Galifianakis, we might get one moment where the con artist drops his guard and confesses his weaknesses. McCarthy is stuck with having to do it every 20 minutes or so.
That’s a real shame, because McCarthy brings a truly manic go-for-broke sensibility to this sketched-in character, plunging fearlessly into outrageous physical comedy (at one point, Bateman subdues her by hitting her in the face with a guitar) and clownish style choices like blue eye shadow and wild hair styling. Every time she tries to rocket this sluggish story into orbit, however, McCarthy has to have another crying jag about her sad life, and everything falls apart.
Bateman, for his part, tries to inject whatever life he can into the straight-man half of this comedic duo, but it’s yet another film where his gifts are squandered. With “Arrested Development,” this journeyman actor finally found a perfect TV role, but the big screen has been less kind; no one with his skills should be dragging around a résumé that includes “The Switch,” “The Change-Up,” “Extract” and “Couples Retreat” over the course of just a few years.
“Identity Thief” has the kind of cast that makes audiences ask, “How bad could it be?” before proceeding to answer that very question.