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IDENTITY THIEF , USA , 2013 , MPAA Rating : R for sexual content and language

Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman are two of the funniest people on the planet. Theirs is the comedic version of perfect pitch, be it broad slapstick, or subtle irony, they take a line or a situation and wring from it every possibility for guffaws, chuckles, and even chortles. So why, when you have these two at your disposal in a film, would you >not< have them in every scene? Playing natural enemies, con artist and pigeon, there is no reason to drag in anyone else, much less point the camera in any direction but theirs. Alas, IDENTITY THIEF does just that.

Bateman is the pigeon, Sandy, an otherwise smart accountant and solid family man, who falls for a con from McCarthy that compromises his identity, his credit rating, and the spiffy new job that will finally pay him enough to afford his family. When he learns that the police in Denver will do nothing to apprehend McCarthy, he intrepidly sets forth to the wilds of Florida to bring her back himself with a sketchy plan and no idea what heís getting himself into when dealing with a woman the size, as he puts it, of a hobbit.

What follows should have been a frothy farce, but instead takes several different attitudes, including action, melodrama, and mean-spirited nihilism. None of those are particularly successful, and, worse, take time out from what the stars do best. To her credit, McCarthy proves herself as adept with the melodrama as the comedy, but thatís no excuse for the bait-and-switch involved here. Bateman, as always, projecting that solid decency on the edge of breaking under the strain of the chaos around him, slips a healthy helping of irony into his lines as the angels of his better nature do battle with a palpable need for revenge. In contrast to McCarthy, a dimpled agent of destruction with no boundaries and a effervescent gusto for getting the upper hand. Watching them try to get the best of each other is terrific.

Watching their efforts go to waste with a script that canít make up its mind, however, is maddening. Further complicating things is Seth Green, who despite having directed HORRIBLE BOSSES, seems to have lost his instinct for comedy, and, worse, who obviously prefers the car chases and crashes, for which he has little better instinct. A better, albeit shorter, film would result in trimming the cantankerous subplots involving criminals and bounty hunters, and concentrate on this perfection of a comedy duo.

INDENTIY THIEF starts strong, with a sly dig at the slimy rich and at Ayn Rand, then flails, keeping the audienceís hopes alive with sparkling performances from McCarthy and Bateman, before petering out with cheap tricks and a glib denouement. It ends with a provoking twist that makes an unpleasant experience even worse. It would be great to see these two teamed up again in a vehicle that works, if only for the cinematic redemption.

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