‘Identity Thief’ fails to deliver when it counts

The collision of deft ad libbers such as Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy ought to be guarantee of comic fireworks, right?

Bateman’s deadpan riffing, re-discovered in “Arrested Development,” is a prized commodity even in bad movies, and McCarthy wisecracked her way to an Oscar nomination for “Bridesmaids.”

Well, it’s a fizzle. “Identity Thief” shoehorns these two into a labored premise that leans on the road trip for its format, and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” for its outline.

Bateman plays a Denver accounts manager whose name — Sandy Bigelow Patterson — is stolen by a Florida scam artist, played by McCarthy. She runs up thousands in bills, and through a variety of plot contrivances, he goes to Florida to bring her to Colorado so she can be arrested.

Well before he arrives in Florida, then, this is one of those “Why didn’t he just…?” and “Why don’t they just…?” movies, in which we must endure illogical behavior in order get the story into place.

But whatever, you say, we want to laugh, so who cares how we get there?

All right, fine. In that case, the laughs need to be more plentiful, because the verbal banter never reaches the heights of McCarthy’s loopy rants in “Bridesmaids,” and the physical stuff includes her getting hit by a car and flying through the air.

There are raunchy moments as well, most of which are confined to a prospective threesome in a roadside motel. Like much about “Identity Thief,” this scene feels left over from a different, wilder screenplay.

The movie itself, directed by “Horrible Bosses” helmer Seth Gordon, is relentlessly soft-bellied, from her very first scene, there are dutiful attempts to let us know that McCarthy’s character is really sad, lonely and desperate, and that’s why she’s engaging in her criminal behavior.

This touchy-feely psychological approach might work with making her “sympathetic” to audiences, but it’s all wrong for comedy.

Best of luck to Bateman and McCarthy in their next projects, because they are comedy all-stars, but this movie’s concept needs a scalpel edge, and it’s completely made of cookie dough.

“Identity Thief” HH

Melissa McCarthy (“Bridesmaids”) scams the identity of mild-mannered Jason Bateman in this labored fling at a road movie. Those are two funny people, but the film is totally soft when it actually needs a scalpel edge.

Rated: R for language, subject matter.

Showing: Alderwood 7, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marsyville, Stanwood, Pacific Place, Sundance, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade.

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