‘Identity Thief’ stumbles through mean-spirited jokes

Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy in ‘Identity Thief.’ Rated R, 112 min. Universal Pictures, 2013.

With Jason Bateman as a mild-mannered husband, father and financial employee, and Melissa McCarthy as the lunatic who steals his credit cards, “Identity Thief” is one of the meanest, nastiest films to ever call itself a “comedy.”

Most of the laughs are not generated by McCarthy, so much as they come from laughing at her. Unlike the winking confidence McCarthy used to break out in “Bridesmaids,” the physical bits here tend toward the violent, uncomfortable and unnecessary. Among other awful mishaps, she gets smashed over the head with a guitar, and sent flying over a vehicle when she is hit at full speed. She doles it out, too, giving a half-dozen punches in the throat.

Just when you think it can’t get any uglier, the film takes a wildly different attitude and tries to somehow humanize and redeem every miserable character. This drastic inconsistency is enough to give you tonal whiplash. Call it the Judd Apatow formula: the appalling leads say and do outrageous things for 90 minutes, then some gentle piano music plays and they learn to grow, change, and accept one another. It’s disappointing to see McCarthy’s promise put to such poor use here.

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