Comedic performances compensate for mediocre plot in “Identity Thief”

Judging by the trailer for “Identity Thief,” the new comedy starring Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman, the film looked like it would epitomize the hit-or-miss film. It could either be a disaster starring two otherwise excellent actors, or it could be a surprise hit, reaffirming our trust in McCarthy and Bateman. In reality, “Identity Thief” falls somewhere in the range of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s “Baby Mama” — not a catastrophe, but not quite classic in the vein of “Bridesmaids” or “The Hangover.” Despite being mediocre cinema, the film is certainly entertaining.

“Identity Thief’s” plot is simple — McCarthy plays Diana, a stealthy identity thief who steals the persona of Sandy Patterson, played by Bateman. The film follows the duo’s tumultuous road trip to Denver in Patterson’s attempt to clear his name. The unlikely pair hit many speed bumps along the way including gangs, snakes and other dangers. It is all lighthearted fun, but do not watch “Identity Thief” expecting a well-thought-out plot.

The film does a terrific job of displaying the best of McCarthy and Bateman’s comedic talents. Many of McCarthy’s hilariously bizarre monologues like the ones in “Bridesmaids” are used here, including a particularly memorable scene in which Diana compares her body to the Bermuda Triangle. Bateman uses deadpan humor, including many great one-liners spoken under his breath, in the spirit of his “Arrested Development” character. The two stars are so delightful to watch that they make up for many of the film’s weaknesses. Nobody can argue that a scene featuring McCarthy singing along to Kelis’ “Milkshake” isn’t comedic gold.

Several television actors make appearances in the film, including Amanda Peet, Morris Chestnut and John Cho. “Modern Family’s” Eric Stonestreet, who plays a rich Southern widower in search of love, is responsible for some of the film’s best scenes. Seeing Stonestreet tease Bateman’s character with a belt while completely disrobing is well worth the price of the ticket.

Unfortunately, character actor Robert Patrick — recently featured in Ruben Fleischer’s “Gangster Squad” — disappoints in a subplot that falls flat, playing a bounty hunter who is not given much to do. His character is not very funny and fits poorly into the rest of the movie.

“Identity Thief” cannot compare to “Bridesmaids,” but at the very least it is a vast improvement over similar failed comedies such as “The Guilt Trip” and “Date Night.” Audiences must be prepared to abandon any expectations of plot, and enjoy the film as a showcase of McCarthy and Bateman’s talents. If that is enough for you, then “Identity Thief” will be a treat.

Gus Constantellis is a contributing writer. Email him at film@nyunews.com.

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