There’s one scene in this ugly and poorly paced road trip comedy that has the straight-laced Sandy (co-producer and star Jason Bateman) hiding in the bathroom because he is so agonized by what is going on in his hotel room. The scammer who stole his identity (Melissa McCarthy) is drunkenly seducing an even tipsier guy named “Big Chuck” (“Modern Family’s” Eric Stonestreet) and two heavy people wanting to have sex must be funny, right? Sandy runs the water in the bathroom and wraps his head in a towel to block out the sounds and thoughts. As we went back and forth between the not-funny gyrations in the bedroom and the not-funny disgust in the bathroom, I was wishing I had a towel to wrap around my ears. And my eyes.
Sandy Bigelow Patterson is a loving husband and father with a pregnant wife (Amanda Peet) holding onto a $50,000-a-year job at a financial institution where the big bosses are getting million-dollar bonuses, not for performance but for “retention.” Director Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”) has a small role as the obnoxious partner who explains why he is worth all that money and a monkey could do Sandy’s job. “I’m going to get you a copy of The Fountainhead,” he says, an overused signifier of soul-less arrogance.
Then, out of the blue, a group from Sandy’s office splits off and hires him at five times his old salary. But his happily ever after is ruined when an identify thief takes advantage of his gender-neutral name (many not-funny jokes are made about Sandy’s overall unmanliness and how girly the name “Sandy” is). She has not just blown out his credit card accounts; she has outstanding arrest warrants. Sandy’s new boss gives him one week to straighten it out and the mild-mannered Sandy decides that what makes sense is for him to leave his family in Colorado and go to Winter Park, Florida to find the other Sandy and somehow bring her back to Colorado and get her to confess her crimes.
But she does not want to go, so she puts up a fight. Worse, she loudly sings along to the car radio. Even worse, through all kinds of trauma and misery she still manages to sport pale blue eye shadow left over from the 1960’s. To further complicate things, she is being chased by a skip tracer because she owes a lot of money (Robert Patrick) and by a couple of elegant-looking hoods under orders from an imprisoned crime kingpin who wants her killed.
A sloppy script from Craig Mazin (some of the mid-“Scary Movie” franchise and the lackluster “Hangover II”) shows no sense of character, and dragged-out direction from Seth Gordon (the wonderful “King of Kong” and the hideously awful “Four Christmases”) shows no understanding of comic momentum. And the film criminally mis-uses not just the exceptional talents of its two leads but also Stonestreet (we are subjected not just to disconcerting, almost random personality shifts and casual racism but also his bare butt), rapper/actor T.I., Genesis Rodriguez (she needs a new agent after this and Schwarzenegger’s “Last Stand”), and Robert Patrick (ditto after this and “Gangster Squad”). McCarthy is as good as it gets in full-on, fearless, “yes, and” commitment to the moment that should be ideal for a character whose skill is constant re-invention and on-the-fly assessment — is this a time for aggression? a play for sympathy? But it is all surface, and an unpleasant surface at that. Sandy #2 is both selfish and needy, the relentless morphing leaving us with nothing — no one — to connect to. And when the classic-turned cliché mismatched road trip formula requires the pair to develop growing sympathy and respect from each other and from us, including, ugh, a makeover, it just collapses.
Parents should know that this movie includes extended sexual humor with very explicit and crude references and explicit situations, brief nudity, drinking and drunkenness, some drug references, very strong language, violence including shooting, punching, collisions, theft and fraud.
Family discussion: What made the characters change their minds about each other? How did Sandy and Diana see the rights and feelings of other people differently? What do you learn about Diana from her encounter with Big Chuck?
If you like this, try: “Midnight Run”