NEW YORK – Road trip movies or buddy movies have been successful formulas for many decades, from “The Thin Man” to “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” to “Midnight Run.” There’s typically the straight man and the goofball who find themselves in compromising situations and Seth Gordon’s (“Horrible Bosses”)”Identity Thief” follows that formula to a fault. Right from the get-go it’s easy to tell exactly where the movie is off to and where it will end up, usually a bad sign for a movie. Luckily this one has Melissa McCarthy, whose hilarious performance as a pathological liar and con-artist, boosts “Identity Thief” above the same-old, same-old.
Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) is on the fast-track to success. He and his co-workers stand up to their greedy, obnoxious boss (Jon Favreau) by quitting and opening their own financial firm. Sandy, though, is duped by miscreant Diana in Florida, who over the phone convinces Sandy to give her his social security number. Having stolen Sandy’s identity, Diana goes on a wild shopping spree, ultimately leading to her arrest. But when misinformation about his false criminal past reaches his new employers, Sandy must travel to the Sunshine State and bring Diana back to Denver to clear his name.
McCarthy gives a whirlwind performance as Diana. On the surface she’s a pathological liar and talented con artist, who, on a whim, can dish out any number of extravagant stories to get in or out of trouble. McCarthy’s bubbly personality is infectious and it’s hard not to fall for her goofy behavior as she’s ripping people off. But McCarthy adds much more to Diana than just slapstick. She lets the audience see some pain and insecurity behind her eyes. Beneath every con and every laugh is a bit of sad truth, and McCarthy pulls us in to her circus-like world with such ease and charm. Though Diana will not be nearly as memorable a character as McCarthy’s role in “Bridesmaids,” Diana gives the comedian a much larger and satisfying range to work with.
The road trip formula is always good fodder for funny sketches and weird characters and “Identity Thief” isn’t lacking in that department. Highlights are “Modern Family’s” Eric Stonestreet as a lonely realtor attempting to shack up with Diana and Sandy in a motel or the odd couple stranded in the Georgia wilderness surrounded by snakes.
Still, “Identity Thief” often plods. Some unnecessary subplots bog the film down, pushing the run-time fifteen minutes longer than it should be. One such subplot has thugs chasing Sandy and Diana from Miami to Denver, hell-bent on killing Diana for defrauding them. The comedy between Bateman and McCarthy is strong enough to support the movie on its own without resorting to a silly tacked-on action scenario.
Surprisingly, in the current raunchy climate of contemporary comedies, “Identity Thief” is comparably mild. There’s more charm and heart wrapped in these characters than many other recent laughers, which should make this much more appealing to a wider audience rather than those just looking for gross situation after gross situation.
While “Identity Thief” isn’t one of the best road-trip movies to come our way, Melissa McCarthy makes the journey worth it.