Movie review

  (out of five stars)

Director: Seth Gordon

Cast: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Amanda Peet, Jon Cho, Jon Favreau. T.I., Genesis Rodriguez, Robert Patrick

Rated: R for vulgar language, brief violence, adult themes

Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes

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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. 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, who made the amusing “Horrible Bosses” but also the torturously unfunny “Four Christmases.” Sadly, that’s the one his new movie most resembles. 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. To say that she won’t go easily is an understatement.

Most unforgivable of all “Identity Thief’s” sins 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. Turning McCarthy into an object of misunderstood pity who only needed a beauty makeover and a nice dress to fit in with society undercuts everything that’s funny about her performance. The actress 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.