FILM: Identity Thief (15)

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Identity theft affects an estimated 1.8 million people in the UK every year, leading to months of worry and stress.

It’s hardly a laughing matter.

Nor is Seth Gordon’s brash comedy, a smash hit on the other side of the Atlantic, which pits a kind-hearted family man (Jason Bateman) against the feisty con woman (Bridesmaids scene-stealer Melissa McCarthy) who has pilfered his personal details.

Identity Thief relies heavily on the razor-sharp comic timing of the two leads, casting Bateman as the beleaguered straight man to McCarthy’s whirlwind extrovert.

The opening hour is acrimoniously divorced from reality, reaching a ludicrous crescendo with a motel room threesome, which makes the second half of the film, laced with heart-tugging sentiment, exceedingly hard to swallow.

“People don’t give a damn about me. I don’t give a damn about people,” sobs McCarthy’s swindler to explain her conniving actions and hopefully curry our sympathy.

The characters in Gordon’s film might be fooled, and even a little dewy-eyed, at this emotional outpouring but we don’t fall for the crocodile tears.

Sandy Bigelow Patterson (Bateman) is a mild-mannered accounts clerk who lives in Denver with his wife Trish (Amanda Peet) and their two young daughters, Franny (Mary-Charles Jones) and Jessie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones).

Domestic bliss is shattered when Sandy learns that a Florida shopaholic called Diana (McCarthy) has stolen his identity and run up huge bills on his credit cards.

Moreover, she has been arrested in his name and local police, led by Detective Reilly (Morris Chestnut), are obliged to harass Sandy for her misdemeanours.

Standing on the brink of financial ruin, Sandy resolves to hunt down Diana and drag her back to Denver to own up to her crimes.

“Don’t do this. You are not Batman!” pleads Trish.

Unperturbed, the husband flies to Florida. He eventually holds Diana hostage and compels her to join him on a 3000-mile road trip back to Denver, with a tenacious bail bondsman (Robert Patrick) in hot pursuit.

Identity Thief should be a riot, given the quality of talent in front of the camera, but Craig Mazin’s screenplay is off-balance almost from the start when we meet Diana getting uproariously drunk in a Florida bar.

“These people like you because you’re buying them drinks,” the bartender reminds her. “People like you don’t have friends.”

We’re supposed to feel sorry for Diana and Mazin ladles on the anguish for her back story, but the con woman’s disregard for Sandy and initial lack of remorse leave us cold at the very moment the film encourages us to care about this wayward soul.

Bateman blusters through the comic set-pieces as a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, steadfastly keeping a straight face while McCarthy plays up to the cameras with unrestrained glee.

Our amusement is considerably more contained.

:: SWEARING :: SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 5/10

Released: March 22 (UK & Ireland) 111 mins