Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy put a crazy, comedic spin on an all-too-serious subject in “Identity Thief,” a rollicking romp about a mild-mannered businessman who gets taken for the ride of his life when he falls for an “identity theft” phone scam.
Before Sandy Patterson (Bateman) knows what’s happening, a woman he’s never met (McCarthy) in a far-away state is using his “unisex” name to live it up. She buys a car and a jet ski, fills her Florida house with cheesy impulse purchases, treats a barroom of strangers to rounds of expensive drinks and skips merrily between self-indulgent spa appointments.
When Bateman’s character discovers what’s going on, a police detective offers him little assurance that the long arm of the law can bring a swift end to his troubles. So Sandy decides to take matters into his own hands. He’ll go to Florida to confront the perpetrator who’s using his name, draining his bank account and complicating things at his brand new job.
And he’ll bring the female “Sandy” back to Colorado with him to confess to her crimes and set his life back in order.
His wife (Amanda Peet) worries he might be biting off more than he can chew. “You don’t chase criminals,” she says. “You’re not Batman.” Don’t fret, Sandy says, showing her a police printout “Sandy” with her mug-shot photo and stats. “That number’s her height. I’m going after Bilbo.”
The movie doesn’t really hit its comedic stride until Bateman and McCarthy meet — “collide” is more like it — in Florida, and then the saucy, sassy, spicy laughs start rolling.
McCarthy, who’s starred on TV’s sitcom “Mike & Molly” since 2010 and was a breakout ensemble player in hit comedy “Bridesmaids” in 2011, finally gets her time to shine in a leading movie role. A gifted, sharp-witted, self-confident comedian who here throws all of her generous physicality into her part, she dances, sings, tumbles, shouts, runs, kicks, punches, coos, crawls, drawls and spews a constant string of laugh lines.
Bateman, the “straight man” by contrast, still gets plenty of funny things to say and do.
Describing what happens would spoil much of the “buddy comedy” and “road movie” surprises. But I can divulge that Sandy and “Sandy” become unlikely traveling companions and even allies of sorts, fleeing from a bounty hunter, cops, and a couple of shady criminal characters with whom “Sandy” has become involved in her fraudulent credit-card scheme.
Eric Stonestreet, who plays Cameron on TV’s “Modern Family,” has a couple of side-splitting scenes as a swinging cowboy barfly that will probably make a lot of viewers forget his swishy gay television role.
The movie takes a turn to the sentimental toward the end, when “Sandy” reveals some personal issues that help explain how she turned out the way she did. And the movie touches on what makes a person’s “identity” beyond simply what he or she happens to be named.
It’s not perfect, and it doesn’t live up to the gold standards set by other movies of its ilk, notably “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and “Midnight Run,” two classic, fan-favorite films from the ’80s to which “Identity Thief” owes a specific tip of its hat.
But Bateman and McCarthy have a genuine chemistry, they seem to truly enjoy each other’s company, and they make for a couple of often hilarious traveling companions for anyone else interested in taking a wild ’n’ crazy road trip on the lighter side of a topic that, as a lot of folks have discovered, is usually no laughing matter.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Identity Thief”
STARRING: Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy
DIRECTED BY: Seth Gordon
RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes