Set a straight-laced family man off on a cross-country journey with a mercurial mischief maker and you have the thoroughly predictable template for “Identity Thief,” an R-rated, knockabout road picture that neatly pairs nice-guy Jason Bateman with wacky raunch queen Melissa McCarthy.
It's a formula that's run its familiar course from 1987's “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” (teaming bland Steve Martin with colorful John Candy) through 2010's “Due Date” (with uptight Robert Downey Jr. and loosey-goosey Zach Galifianakis).
Taking off from the painfully unfunny premise of identity theft, this dicey comedy from director Seth Gordon (“Horrible Bosses”) and screenwriter Craig Mazin (“The Hangover Part II”) charts an unsurprising course over well-trod farcical territory — from harsh antagonism to saccharine reconciliation, with a lot of outrageous detours, loose-cannon pursuers and raunchy potholes along the way.
Bateman dons his affable, Everyman loafers to play Sandy Patterson, a Denver businessman with a lovely wife (Amanda Peet, woefully underused) and two generically cute daughters — with another on the way. But Sandy's orderly, suburban life is thrown into ruin when his credit card is shredded one morning at a gas station and police show up at his office accusing him of financial fraud and worse.
Turns out, halfway across the country in Florida, a portly, potty-mouthed scam artist named Diana (McCarthy in full party-hearty mode) has stolen Sandy's identity, double-crossed a gang of drug dealers and run up a fortune in extravagant debt on forged credit cards. (This sets off a lame running gag about Sandy being an effeminate name. “It's not,” he protests. “It's metrosexual.”)
Anyway, cops are pitifully ineffectual in helping poor Sandy, so he takes matters into his own hands and travels to Florida to confront Diana and drag her back to Denver to clear his good name.
On the road, much bickering ensues as Sandy and Diana roughly bond while taking several detours down back roads to greasy-spoon diners and no-tell motels and being pursued by a silky pair of cartel assassins (T.I. and Genesis Rodriguez) and a grizzly, gun-toting bounty hunter (Robert Patrick).
Motor-mouthed McCarthy and mild-mannered Bateman are the glue that holds this strained, slapdash story together. Everything depends on the spiky chemistry they conjure up as he natters around feebly while she riffs hilariously on radio tunes, cooks up various larcenous pranks and prattles on about the sex goddess within (with teary hints at her tragic, vulnerable past).
It's not quite enough to redeem “Identity Thief” from its blithely dubious attitude toward larceny and its consequences, but if you find yourself stuck in the back seat on this road trip to nowhere new, at least they're lively, entertaining company.
— Dennis King
Starring: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, T.I., Amanda Peet (Sexual content and language).