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updated: 2/7/2013 3:44 PM

McCarthy-Bateman charisma not enough to fuel road comedy

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  • Jason Bateman tries to bring a con artist played by Melissa McCarthy to justice for stealing his identity and ruining his credit score in "Identity Thief."

    Jason Bateman tries to bring a con artist played by Melissa McCarthy to justice for stealing his identity and ruining his credit score in "Identity Thief."

  • Melissa McCarthy is at her improvisational best "Identity Thief."

    Melissa McCarthy is at her improvisational best "Identity Thief."

  • Video: "Identity Thief" trailer


In his comedy "Identity Thief," Seth Gordon steals the identity of the classic cross-country chase comedy "Midnight Run," then tweaks it with supercharged performances from its two comedic stars, the droll Jason Bateman and the hilariously improvisational Melissa McCarthy.

Plainfield native McCarthy supplies the majority of the big yucks in "Identity Thief," a bloated, slapsticky, Judd Apatowish wannabe comedy that needs one or two more passes through the editing software to get this star vehicle down to fighting weight and velocity.

At least Gordon's comedy -- his first since the mini-hit "Horrible Bosses" -- finally confirms that McCarthy has become the feminine incarnation of Wheaton's own John Belushi.

Like the late Belushi, McCarthy performs unexpectedly amazing physical feats with a roly-poly body that defies the laws of gravity and here, at least, two states.

She proves herself an increasingly skilled physical comedian, able to rumble on a Three Stooges level of violent abuse while bouncing back with the spry agility of a Saturday morning cartoon character. Yet, even her bouncy performance as Diana, the title character, can keep this movie propped up only so long.

It begins when a soft-spoken, easygoing, financially conservative Denver family guy named Sandy Patterson (producer Bateman) discovers that his credit card has been mysteriously maxed out.

Worse, his identify has been stolen by a Florida con (McCarthy, of course) posing as Sandy while knocking down his credit score to 240. (An official points out, "Even homeless people have better credit scores than that!")

Sandy's new boss Daniel Casey (John Cho) at their recently founded financial firm has no choice but to fire Sandy since it looks bad for a partner to possess a rap sheet of unpaid bills and physical assaults, all committed by the faux Sandy in Florida.

The cop on the case (Morris Chestnut) agrees to arrest the identity thief, but only if Sandy can get her into Denver's jurisdiction. His boss gives Sandy one week to clear his name.

So, milquetoast Sandy kisses his two adorable daughters and his understanding wife (Amanda Peet) goodbye, then heads to Florida to find the fake Sandy and restore his financial status.

"Identity Thief" starts off with a series of cartoon assaults that sets the comedy bar fairly low for the remainder of the movie. (Sandy smashing his feminine alter-ego in the face with a guitar full force is the highlight.)

Sandy doesn't have the funds to fly back to Denver, but he does have $300 in his sock he can use to buy a cheap car for a long road trip.

Here is when screenwriter Steve Conrad loses confidence that this Sandy pair on a cross-country odyssey might be engaging enough on their own, so he starts piling on the action subplots.

Two minority hit people (T.I. and Genesis Rodriguez) are on Diana's tail, assigned to bump her off by their imprisoned boss who somehow wound up with bad stolen credit cards from her.

Next, a macho skip tracer (Robert Patrick in good-old-boy form) joins the chase, anxious to capture Diana before the assassins get to her.

Meanwhile, Sandy and Diana start to bond, and in a forced attempt to provide some Apatowian sympathy, Diana reveals herself to be a lonely, damaged soul whose identity heists have been prompted by a search for her own unknown identity.

"Identity Thief" offers some well-edited car crash sequences and the niftiest aerial shot of the St. Louis arch ever put on non-IMAX film.

And Christopher Lennertz's crazy score runs a gleeful gamut from whimsical whistling to 1970s exploitation organ music.

All this does little to cover the potholes in Gordon's bumpy ride of a comedy.

Fortunately, McCarthy pumps the movie's tires with enough moments of hilarity to smooth over much of the directorial clumsiness.

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