Identity Thief (R) ★★

Review Date: February 7th, 2013

Misused talent is disappointing.Although Jason Bateman, who stars as Sandy Patterson in Identity Thief, was fantastic on Arrested Development, he's never quite hit the same rhythm when it comes to movie roles. His co-star Melissa McCarthy, who is probably best known for her Bridesmaids shenanigans, has been quietly putting out terrific work for years — especially in the show Gilmore Girls. She's Bateman's foil in her latest film, playing Diana, a lifestyle identity thief whose social engineering wipes out Sandy's bank account, tanks his credit, and jeopardizes his new job at a financial firm. Cue 21st century financial distress plot point about the little guy just trying to make ends meet and how he's family man and blah blah blah. Too bad an accountant doesn't realize not to give his social security number out on the phone to a stranger.

It's so easy to root for McCarthy and Bateman — so easy, in fact, that one can almost overlook the most half-baked aspects of Identity Thief: the limp road trip, the even worse car chases, the stupid subplot that affords us a few glimpses of beloved Breaking Bad-baddie Jonathan Banks, the exhausting make-over, and last but never least, the weirdly moralistic and touchy-feely ending.

Identity Thief asks a somewhat interesting question, which is what could prompt a person to steal another's identity? The answer, of course, is a ''Hobbit-sized'' woman with an orange-tinted fake tan and tacky makeup who, on one hand, is charismatic enough to talk her way out of anything but lonely enough that she makes up a never-ending stream of lies to tell strangers who aren't listening anyway. In the end, she's not a sociopath, she's just an emotionally broken person who needs a cream rinse and some neutral eye shadow.

There's something amazing and pathetic in the first scene where we meet Diana. She's buying drinks for an entire bar, and naturally everyone is shouting her name (well, Sandy's name) and clapping and rallying around her because who doesn't like free drinks? When a bartender gets tired of her hijinks, he tries to take her down a peg by sneering at her that these strangers aren't her friends and they'll never be her friends and that they only like her because she's buying them stuff. So she punches him in the throat.

There's promise in this premise when Diana is allowed to be vicious and wily, but as the story transmogrifies into a road trip/morality lesson, she is awkwardly defanged in what could be assumed is an attempt to flesh out her character and give her a past that would explain away everything. Sandy is a weak character to begin with; the ongoing jokes about how Sandy is a woman's name is all too typical of screenwriter Craig Mazin, who's penned all three Hangover movies, Scary Movie 3 and 4, and Superhero Movie. At least there's not a smoking monkey, right?

Bateman is often typecast as an Everyman, because only in Hollywood could someone who looks like Jason Bateman pass for a regular guy on the street. He's that Everyman here, too — a doting dad, a loving husband, a hardworking employee, an honest citizen — but there's an ugly edge to him that Diana brings out. What's interesting about this dynamic is that Diana becomes much more empathetic, even before Mazin et al throw in a ham-handed backstory for her. The people that encounter them on their road trip — and the explanation for that is too exhausting to get into — see Diana as a fun, warm woman, and they give Sandy a hard time for being a jerk to her. (Cheers to a great Ben Falcone cameo as one such gentleman.) It's not clear if we're supposed to be on Diana's side, or if we're to believe that she's using her prodigious social engineering skills to her own ends, or if it's supposed to be hilarious that men would actually find her sexually attractive and cool. I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and go with the former. The latter in particular would just be too much to swallow, especially given the garish make-up and clothes she's wearing before she realizes the error of her ways, both morally and aesthetically.

Identity Thief is better than The Hangover and on par with director Seth Gordon's Horrible Bosses, which Bateman also appeared in. It's something you'll watch on demand one night when you don't feel like moving off your couch. Why is it so hard for these two talented actors and comedians to find good movie roles? If we learned anything from This is 40, it's that any movie can be improved by letting McCarthy improvise. How much longer do we have to wait to see their own respective projects get off the ground? And why isn't Gilmore Girls on Netflix Instant yet? rated this film 2 stars.