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02/07/2013 08:28 am ET Updated Apr 09, 2013

Movie Review: Identity Thief

Think of Identity Thief as a weak-tea reworking of Midnight Run, itself a long-overvalued action-comedy that was never as good its proponents would have you think.

Here's the most damning credit in the list of unremarkable credits for Identity Thief: The writer is Craig Mazin, whose filmography includes Scary Movie 3 and The Hangover Part II.

Mr. Originality, right?

The fact that this film is directed by Seth Gordon doesn't bode well, either, given a track record that includes the half-funny Horrible Bosses and the similarly undercooked Four Christmases. Gordon, who made the stellar documentary, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, seems to have mastered the art of taking a high-concept comedy and skimming its surface for a minimum of laughs.

In Identity Thief, Jason Bateman plays Sandy Patterson, a numbers-cruncher of some sort in an investment firm in Denver. He's married with two kids, with a third on the way -- but he and his wife (Amanda Peet) live in a small apartment, because he hasn't had a raise or a bonus in years, while his piggy boss (Jon Favreau) takes home giant checks.

Sandy takes a lot of grief for his name: "Isn't that a girl's name?" people keep asking, as though this unfunny line is a surefire laugh-generator. Guess what? Not even the first time.

The point is he's a nice guy, a softie who has to man up when he discovers that someone in Florida has not only stolen his identity but has run up huge bills and skipped out on a court appearance after being arrested. But when the Denver cops profess helplessness to deal with the problem, Sandy takes matters into his own hands and goes to Florida to find the miscreant.

She turns out to be a ball of fire named Diana and she's played by Melissa McCarthy. Sandy finds her and forces her to go back to Denver with him to help straighten things out. Sandy, however, is not the only one after Diana; an imprisoned criminal (Jonathan Banks) also has a beef with her and sends a pair of killers (rapper T.I. and Genesis Rodriguez) after her. And there's also a skip-tracer (Robert Patrick) on her trail for jumping bail.

But, as they say about bad negotiators or gamblers, Gordon and Mazin leave a lot of money on the table. Even the scenes with the most comic potential have no punch or follow-through; their idea of a hilarious running joke (aside from that Sandy thing) is having McCarthy, when cornered, deliver a punch to the larynx. After the first time, it loses its comedic impact. By the fourth or fifth time, well, you begin to wonder if this is the only arrow these guys have in their quiver. The answer is yes, I'm afraid.

That's not to mention the numerous plot strands that seem to come and go without ever actually being resolved. The whole storyline about Jonathan Banks (who possesses what could be the best comic slow-burn since Jimmy Finlayson in the Laurel and Hardy films) is like that bridge to nowhere that Sarah Palin kept babbling about.

Bateman and McCarthy are two exceptional comic talents who should sue both the writer and the director for nonsupport. The filmmakers can't seem to exploit the natural comic timing and imagination of either Bateman or McCarthy, both of whom apply a lot of effort with little outcome.

Gordon surrounds them with people like Peet, Favreau, Patrick, John Cho and Eric Stonestreet, but only Stonestreet actually has a character to work with (and does make the most of it). The rest are slotted into types: loyal wife, bad boss, insincere friend. They might as well be cardboard cutouts.

The only thing Identity Thief steals is your time and your expectation of inventive comedy. The concept may be high, but the yield (in terms of laughs) is depressingly low.

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