Tragedy and desperation provide a great context for comedy; extreme circumstances often lead to extreme, and sometimes funny, behavior. In fundamental sense, this idea is the basis for the story of Identity Thief - a strange but formulaic road-trip movie which marginally succeeds at delivering a few laughs.
Melissa McCarthy stars as Diana, a highly-manipulative, pathological liar who uses her skills in the art of identity theft to provide the extravagant lifestyle to which she has become accustomed.
Diana's latest unsuspecting victim is Sandy Patterson (the gender ambiguity of the first name is a bit of a running joke in the movie - although not an especially good one) played by Jason Bateman. He's a hard-working, play-by-the-rules kind of guy who is trying to provide a good life for his two daughters and pregnant wife, all while making too-little money working for an unappreciative, condescending ass.
Sandy's problems all but disappear when he's offered a new job which promises to provide everything his life has been lacking, e.g. financial stability, professional respect and appreciation, etc. But sometimes the only thing worse than not achieving your dreams is achieving your dreams, ever so briefly, only to have them ripped away, which is precisely what life threatens to do to Sandy when the fallout of having his identity stolen - courtesy of Diana - wreaks havoc.
After some unfortunate events, Sandy quickly learns that local law enforcement is efficient at antagonizing him when the investigation calls for it, but useless when it comes to apprehending the perpetrator, Diana, due to the fact that she's on the other side of the country; the cross-jurisdictional bureaucracy is hopelessly ineffective. Forced to take matters into his own hands, Sandy negotiates a week off of work and sets off to Florida with the intention of convincing Diana - through whatever means necessary - to return with him to Denver.
Similar to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles or more recently Due Date, this setup allows for two strangers to trek across the United States and in the process grow as people by coming to understand and, to some extent, appreciate each other.
The driving force of Identity Thief is the persona of Diana as created by Melissa McCarthy. Although she does a reasonably good job, ultimately, it's not enough to carry the movie.
The fundamental problem is that Identity Thief simultaneously does too much and too little. At times the movie tries to be a drama, a tear jerker, and an action flick. Granted, some of the plot variation is done for the benefit of expanding the canvas on which the comedy is created. But, the lack of consistency detracts from the film, especially during some of the transitions which end up feeling awkward.
All the while, the one thing that all good comedies must do - make the audience laugh - this movie does too little. To be sure, there are a handful of laughs - some created naturally and others born of highly contrived circumstance - but, in the end, it just wasn't enough...