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Identity Thief 

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★★★★

Starring Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy. Written by Craig Mazin and Jerry Eeten. Directed by Seth Gordon.

Hollywood has a long-standing tradition of funny fat men. There was John Belushi in the '70s, John Candy in the '80s, Chris Farley in the '90s, Jack Black in the 2000s, Zack Galifianakis today. And all of these guys are (or were) funny. Very funny. But the humor in much of their work is derived from derision – particularly with hopeless chumps like Farley and Black whose trademark gimmicks were rooted in self-deprecating humor and humiliation. Basically the bulk of the laughs were, "HA HA, look at that funny fat guy!"

Body image plays a huge role in humor. Fat guys are funny because the social perception of them is that they are also slobs, and also somewhat hapless and hopeless, and also maybe probably a little dumb. The "funny fat guy" archetype is timeless in entertainment, heavily (no pun intended) utilized on the silver screen from the days of Laurel and Hardy.

For women, it's a little different. (And for women, this comes as no surprise.) Generally society would rather we be sexy than funny – or, if we have to be funny, it's better to also be sexy (as in the case with Tina Fey, Sarah Silverman and the horrible, terrible Chelsea Handler).

Melissa McCarthy is not what you would call "sexy" by any modern American (and particularly Hollyweird) standard. She a big girl. But while Identify Thief could certainly use this to its own advantage – and make no mistake, at times it does – the movie refreshingly steers clear of cheap shots and banal fat jokes.

And this is what makes Identity Thief truly worthwhile. The story is secondary to the nuanced comedic performances of lead actors. Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) is a mild-mannered, simple businessman leading a quiet and relatively happy life until his identity is stolen (and consequently his credit tanked and his new job in jeopardy) by the over-the-top spunktastic sociopath Diana (McCarthy).

Except for that she's really not a sociopath, and her spunktasticness is all show. Does is sound a bit treacly to say that her whole outward act is merely a defense mechanism to guard against her own insecurity and loneliness? Probably, but thankfully the movie never gets quite so heavy-handed. Diana is a larger-than-life (no pun intended) trip, and a royal pain in Sandy's ass. He is forced to track her down in Florida and bring her back to Denver to clear his name and get his job back.

It is, of course, not easy to convince her to do this, and the movie takes off from the start of their interactions (with a few other baddies on their tail who also have a beef with the little lady, for added dramatic tension). At its heart, this is a buddy comedy road trip movie in the vein of all of the great buddy comedy road trip movies that came before it, particularly the ones that paired a mismatched duo (wherein one is a criminal) from totally different walks of life. It's part Midnight Run, part Nothing to Lose, but really we haven't seen a movie from this particular subgenre with this much heart and brain since 1987's Planes, Trains and Automobiles (starring none other than John Candy).

Bateman fans will be happy to see him in a role he plays regularly yet very well. But the real star here (much like in the well-received Bridesmaids) is McCarthy. Where her character could so easily devolve into cheap schtick, McCarthy delivers an emotionally layered performance. There are laughs, and plenty of them, but there is also catharsis – though at no point does it become an overly-sensitive comedy too serious for its own good. Deft handling of the script by director Seth Gordon and excellent performances by a top-notch cast of veteran comedy actors make this a must-see comedy.

—Nicole Rupersburg

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