I'm rooting for Melissa McCarthy. I've been a big fan since she co-starred on Gilmore Girls. I've seen her in Groundlings shows here in Los Angeles where I could barely breathe from laughing so hard. And when Bridesmaids arrived and propelled her toward name-above-the-title, lady-Galifianakis status, I was glad.
So now she's got her name above the title. And I am not glad.
It's not her fault. She's a pro at broad, mainstream comedy. She wouldn't have her own sitcom if she couldn't play both sides of the nice/naughty culture divide. And in this R-rated visit to the big, bright, loud world of on-the-nose adult cartoonishness, she goes for it Bugs-Bunny-meets-the-Roadrunner-meets-all-three-Stooges-style. It's just that the movie she's single-handedly trying to save isn't worth her effort.
As the title's thief, an always-on-the-job scam artist who wrecks Jason Bateman's life when she appropriates his identity (his name is Sandy, a joke that's marginally funny the first time it's mentioned, less so the other dozen callbacks), McCarthy's responsible for spinning out of control stylishly. Dressed like a fruit salad, wearing as much makeup as the late Tammy Faye Bakker, bouncing back up when involved in rolling car crashes or when smashed in the face with a guitar, she fills every frame she's in with the same magnetic energy she displayed in Bridesmaids. She's even game when the film decides to grind to a halt, begging for sympathy with boo-hoo stories of neglected childhoods and friendlessness. Tears well up in her eyes and you do, for a moment, feel for her. Thing is, you shouldn't have to.
And that's the movie's fatal flaw. It doesn't fail merely because of its generic road trip bonding premise (McCarthy has to be transported back to Bateman's home state for her confession of wrongdoing) or faulty and fake understanding of how real people deal with actual identity theft, chalk-outline characters or refusal to pick up the pace (its running time pushes the two-hour mark), although it's guilty of all of those crimes. It fails because it lacks nerve. It fails because of hugs and heartwarmth and cheap, forced empathy, all of which are poison to raucous adult comedy. It fails because the filmmakers chickened out and played it safe, they hedged their bets in the name of likability, they didn't trust the talent of their own stars to carry the film. The resulting mess is flat, dull and lame. McCarthy deserves better than this and I hope she gets it down the road. Meanwhile, where's that Bridesmaids creative team when you really need them?