SNEAK PREVIEW

Winsome pair buoys up mediocre comedy

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BATEMAN AND MCCARTHY. Amiable performers with contrasting comedic gifts.

Can a fine performance save a mediocre film? Yes and no. If you’re Meryl Streep, you can turn a cheesy musical (“Mamma Mia”), a by-the-numbers actioner (“The River Wild”), and a dawdling biopic (“The Iron Lady”) into enjoyable screen romps.

Her male counterparts, Daniel Day-Lewis and Russell Crowe, are also chameleons, but they’re nowhere as versatile—not in musicals, that’s for sure. Remember the former’s languorous singing in “Nine,” or the latter’s karaoke-grade vocal bravado in “Les Miserables”?

Other good performances in not-so-good movies come to mind: Anthony Hopkins earned a well-deserved Oscar as Hannibal Lecter in 1991’s “The Silence of the Lambs,” and his creepy ambiguity in Mikael Håfström’s incoherent exorcism chiller, “The Rite,” is just as terrifying—and unforgettable.

“Body of Evidence” is almost as intolerable as Madonna’s portrayal in it, but Willem Dafoe made it bearable.

The fanboy in us couldn’t wait for the release of Martin Campbell’s big-screen version of “Green Lantern,” but while the eagerly anticipated Ryan Reynolds starrer turned out to be a misfire, Mark Strong’s characterization of the villainous Sinestro went beyond caricature.

Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy are neither as polarizing as Madonna nor as iconic as Streep, but they’re amiable performers with contrasting comedic gifts—whose pairing in Seth Gordon’s “Identity Thief” initially seems inspired. Their occasional moments of witty, improvisational banter are among the comic flick’s few attractions.

The film follows the misadventures of mild-mannered businessman, Sandy Patterson (Bateman), who takes a 2,700-kilometer trip to confront and arrest hefty but harmless Diana (McCarthy), who’s been living it up after stealing his identity!

Diana’s ruse gets Sandy in trouble at work—and with the police, who are hot on the beleaguered businessman’s trail for missing a court date, for an assault charge involving Diana, who’s been passing herself up as “Sandy Patterson.” Then, the cops accuse Sandy of using his credit card to buy drugs! Sandy must find Diana and get her to clear his name—before it’s too late!

The unlikely tandem is given many opportunities to cash in on their refreshing chemistry and idiosyncratic comedic skills—but, while some of them generate laughter, many of the gags fall flat. Ultimately, not even Bateman and McCarthy’s likability can save their sluggish starrer.

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