All that good will Melissa McCarthy had after “Bridesmaids”? Completely undone by “Identity Thief,” an obnoxious comedy made worse by obnoxious sentimentality. Unfunny, predictable, and vulgar, it’s the generic equivalent of a Judd Apatow movie. As always, you get what you pay for.
Unless, of course, fat ladies rubbing their crotches and braying like mules is your idea of comedy gold, in which case, here’s your swill of the week. Jason Bateman, trying manfully to hold on to his dignity, plays Sandy Patterson, a Denver corporate drone with a pregnant wife (Amanda Peet) and two little girls (sisters Mary-Charles and Maggie Elizabeth Jones). Mr. Average, in other words. McCarthy is Diana, a cheerful sociopath who smooth-talks Sandy out of his credit information over the phone and goes on a Florida shopping spree that ends up with the cops at her victim’s door.
The few laughs come early, via Diana’s infectious shopaholic glee; few people in the movies enjoy themselves as enjoyably as McCarthy. Then the script by Craig Mazin and Jerry Eeten tortures itself in an effort to get Sandy and Diana together and on a road trip back to Denver, where he can turn her over to the law and convince his boss (John Cho) of his innocence. No, it doesn’t make sense. Nothing in this movie makes sense. Next to “Identity Thief,” “Inception” is a marvel of sober concision.
On the couple’s trail are a psychotic debt collector (Robert Patrick, looking like a methed-out Kris Kristofferson) and two sharply dressed members of a drug cartel (Genesis Rodriguez and rapper T.I.) who want Diana dead for reasons even the screenwriters can’t figure out. Director Seth Gordon — who had a promising little career making documentaries like “The King of Kong” before going Hollywood with dreck like “Horrible Bosses” — puts more energy into the car chases than anything that passes for recognizable human behavior.
At 108 minutes, “Identity Thief” goes on forever, and you start ticking off the comedy clichés and story beats to keep tedium at bay: Scene where McCarthy sings badly to ’70s oldies on the car radio, check. Scene where Bateman loses his pants, check. Scene where McCarthy sees a picture of Bateman’s kids and goes all gooey, sigh.
And obligatory fat-guy butt cheeks, obviously. In what you’d think would be the low point of “Identity Thief,” Diana invites a portly gent named Big Chuck (Eric Stonestreet) back to a motel room for a furniture-wrecking bout of kinky sex while Sandy cowers in the bathroom. If the filmmakers really wanted to push the envelope, they’d throw Sandy and Diana into bed together, but that might scare the paying customers. The movie’s general attitude toward large people is that they’re just regular folks once you’re done making fun of them.
Actually, the rock-bottom nadir of “Identity Thief” would have to be the scenes that try to gin up sympathy for Diana: a weepy monologue about her foster-home upbringing and a late-inning makeover that gives the character a “sensible” hairdo and a tasteful black dress. It’s like putting a circus clown in a chador — what’s the point? As a comedy star, McCarthy lives by aggression and the belief that she’s the hottest thing on the planet. Her obliviousness empowers her; that’s the joke, and she’s in on it. In “Identity Thief,” the joke’s on her, and everyone comes out a loser.Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.