Don't let this 'Thief' steal two hours of your time

| Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 8:55 p.m.


In “Identity Thief,” Melissa McCarthy gets smacked in the face with a frying pan, conked on the head with a toaster, run over by a car and suffers a hundred other bits of violent slapstick, and you laugh almost every time. Then the moment passes, and the movie reverts to crummy.

McCarthy is an immensely likable screen presence who is fearless at making herself look ridiculous, and the combination of her girth and surprising agility recall “Animal House”-era John Belushi.

Unfortunately, no matter how hard McCarthy tries, “Identity Thief” remains an unsalvageable wreck.

She plays Diana, a loud and gregarious woman who looks like a super-sized Raggedy Ann doll, with her shock of long red hair and flair for eyeball-searing ensembles. Diana is a computer-savvy con artist who tricks people into giving her their Social Security numbers and birth dates, then cranks out fake credit cards and goes on costly shopping sprees. But she picks the wrong target when she goes after Sandy (Jason Bateman), a husband and father of two kids with another on the way who has just gotten a promotion when the police show up accusing him of credit fraud.

“Identity Thief” was directed by Seth Gordon (“Horrible Bosses,” “Four Christmases”)

Sandy, who lives in Denver, heads out on a road trip to Florida, where Diana lives, to track her down and somehow bring her back to Colorado so he can clear his name.

Bateman is a talented actor who has fallen into the Ben Stiller trap of playing the same character in every movie: The ordinary guy with extraordinarily bad luck who serves as straight man to his wild co-stars. “Identity Thief” is a road comedy, which means there are lots of car chases and crashes. There are hit men and bounty hunters — only because the two lead characters aren't enough to warrant almost two hours of screen time on their own?

Most unforgivable of all “Identity Thief's” sins, though, is the dreaded third-act veer into sentimentality, with tearful confessions and heartwarming revelations and Diana's transformation from ugly duckling into a beautiful swan. McCarthy tries her best to sell the poignancy, but her talent only makes it worse, because you start feeling sorry for her character, and “Identity Thief” apparently forgets it was supposed to be a comedy.

Rene Rodriguez reviews movies for The Miami Herald.

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