Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy make this otherwise middling, bland comedy bearable.

Seth Gordon broke onto the scene with his 2007 documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters about two men fighting to get the world’s highest score in the classic arcade game, Donkey Kong. The success allowed him to move into making features but he, as of yet, has been unable to follow up his debut with anything nearly as strong. His second film, Four Christmases was DOA but the follow up Horrible Bosses, while not a critical darling, showed signs of improvement and that maybe he could recapture some of the magic he initially manifested. It’s unfortunate then, that Identity Thief, while not a bomb, won’t be doing his reputation any favors.

Of course casting the always likable, slightly sarcastic Jason Bateman as the lead and teaming him up with the comedy-breakout Queen Melissa McCarthy can never be truly terrible. Separately, they’re both proven stars, and in the case of Bateman, even true actors. And for those wondering how they work together? Well, Bateman’s acerbic attitude fits well with McCarthy’s more cartoony-yet-sympathetic wild girl image she’s cultivated. It’s just that they’re not really given a good platform to work on. It may be no surprise since the script is from Craig Bazin, best known as a co-writer on The Hangover II (and the upcoming The Hangover III), as well as both Scary Movie 3 and Scary Movie 4, but the two stars are good enough that they overcome an otherwise uninspired script.

The story is a simple road trip archetype, with Bateman playing Sandy Bigelow Patterson (the gender ambiguous name being a target for many jokes, as well as the film’s main plot point), an accountant working for a financial conglomerate, and struggling to make ends meet. But just as things are starting to look up for him, he finds out all of his money has been spent and there is a warrant out for his arrest in Florida. But he lives in Denver. He soon realizes he’s the victim of identity theft. Even worse, the issues are affecting his professional life and because the fraud happened in another state, there’s not much the local police can do. So, with an inspired idea to save his job, and his life, he decides to head out to Florida, find the perpetrator, Diana (McCarthy), and bring her back to Denver under the pretense of clearing it up for his boss — no police involved.

Of course he knows that she won’t necessarily come willingly, but he doesn’t see any other choice as he’s threatened with being fired before the whole mess can be sorted out through the proper channels. In Florida he meets the “other” Sandy Bigelow Patterson (see it’s a girls name too!) and hilarity supposedly ensues. And while the film does have some inspired scenes and moments, mostly thanks to the talents of its stars, it’s nothing to write home about. The pairing of Bateman and McCarthy, while set up somewhat credibly, still feels a bit forced and the film as an excuse to get these two together and to put then in some wacky situations! Gordon is able to imbue the story with some credible tender moments, again only sold because its accomplished cast, but it’s just missing whatever it needs to take it to the next level. And that “something” it’s missing isn’t readily identifiable. Sure, the script is nothing special, but better comedies have succeeded with less and Bateman and McCarthy do have some chemistry as a duo, so maybe blame should be laid on Gordon. It’s his job to take what he’s given and make it something more. Maybe he did, maybe the script was that awful that this is the best he could do. Which, of course, begs the question of why someone who came onto the scene with an original documentary seems hell bent on making middling commercial comedies in the first place? Whatever the reason, Identity Thief may be watchable but will rightly be forgotten.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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