A film review by Craig J. Koban August 17, 2011


2011, R, 113 mins.

Ryan Reynolds: Mitch / Jason Bateman: Dave / Leslie Mann: Jamie / Olivia Wilde: Sabrina / Craig Bierko: Valtan / Alan Arkin: Mitch's dad

Directed by David Dobkin / Written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore

You know that the Hollywood thought machine is in total free fall mode when it feels compelled to rehash a comedy sub-genre that all but died twenty years ago: the body-switch comedy of errors.  It’s telling that the last novel and intriguing film involving a consciousness swap was not really a comedy at all - John Woo’s wickedly ingenious FACE/OFF from 1997.   Perhaps because that, filmmakers realized that, by the end of the 90’s, all the amusing possibilities of the genre have been long exhausted. 

THE CHANGE-UP certainly does not think so, which is the source of my ultimate issue with the film: it takes the basic and more rudimentary elements of the body switch formula and never really does anything compelling with it, nor does it cheekily subvert it.  All THE CHANGE-UP does is attain a sub-par TV sitcom level of laughs based on the premise of mistaken identities and misunderstandings.   Beyond the very initial fun of seeing two polar opposite characters switch physical facades, the film does excruciatingly little to re-explore the genre.  Worse yet, it wants to be almost obnoxiously vulgar, puerile, and crass and have a neat and tidy conclusion that's sweet and sentimental, which comes off as frustratingly false. 

The film at least has two likeable lead actors that are both effective comic foils to the other: We have Jason Bateman, one of the finest and driest self-deprecating straight men of the movies, playing opposite of Ryan Reynolds, who often displays an arrogant and self-congratulatory smugness in comedic roles (oftentimes hated by me in most of his movies, but here it seems to kind of fit).  Mitch (Reynolds) is a confirmed bachelor and wanna-be actor that lives in one of those shoddy movie apartments where everything is in a state of disarray and the food in the refrigerator is so rancid that it looks like it could walk out under its own power.  He may be an unsophisticated slob, but he has dashing good looks, a mischievous grin, and an impeccable way of convincing ladies to have sex with him.  He lives a freewheeling lifestyle of mostly consequence-free intercourse and wanton, almost childish irresponsibility.  His BFF Dave (Bateman) could not be anymore different.  He’s married, has three children, has a beautifully lush and posh home, and is an aspiring lawyer with high hopes of making partner at his firm.   

Needless to say, the actor/weed-smoking/swinger and the lawyer/husband/daddy don’t get to hang as much anymore, but when they do have a guy’s night out at a hometown Atlanta bar to watch a baseball game, they both drunkenly seem to declare to each other how they might be better off it they switched lifestyles.  Later that evening they go to a nearby park, unzip their flies, and proceed to urinate into the waters of a fountain containing the statue of the Greek goddess Metis, where they both, in unison, declare, “I wish I had your life!”  The next morning shockingly reveals that their fountain-side wishes have been granted.  Mitch, to his horror, awakens in bed next to Dave’s wife Jamie (Leslie Mann) and hears the screams of Dave’s babies in the background.  When he looks into the mirror and sees Dave’s reflection he really gets a shock to the system.  Similarly, Dave awakens in Mitch’s pad not knowing why.  When Mitch shows up and sees…well…himself…the reality of the situation comes crashing down on him as well. 

Inexplicably, THE CHANGE-UP was written by the pair that gave us THE HANGOVER (a comedy I liked) and was directed by the man that made WEDDING CRASHERS (a comedy I liked even more), which is amazing because non of those films’ inspired comic instincts are on display here at all.  What’s really unsettling is just how needlessly and desperately vulgar and dirty the film is, which should not be typically held as a criticism against a hard R-rated comedy.  I am no prude when it comes to cinematic debauchery, but I have rarely seen a film that is so anxious and fidgety to be scatological at every waking moment.  When characters are not engaging in endless dialogue exchanges that are riddled with coarse words of the most foul and creepily misogynistic extreme, we are served up trite, disgusting, and would-be outrageous sight gags and pratfalls.   

Within a few short minutes into the film we are given instances of the film’s scandalous lack of grace: Dave attempts to change one of his kid’s poop-filled diapers while having his face planted right in his crotch; the infant then farts and  projectile craps into Dave’s face and open mouth.  Hardy har.  Previous to that we have a beyond-obvious CGI visual effect of one of the babies methodically smashing his head against his cradle's bars…over and over again…which is followed by a scene much later when the hapless Mitch comments on how the child looks “Downsey” and retarded.  Yuck, yuck.  Then we get other lame gags involving freakishly botoxed soft porn stars, obsessively horny pregnant women, and even more CGI-infused jokes involving those babies again (this time wielding knifes and other kitchen implements) and…gee whiz…I could go about the film’s nosedive into insipidly obscene comic transgression, but I will spare you.  The fact that all of this goes on for the almost unendurable running time of nearly two hours is another of the film’s multiple sins. 

THE CHANGE-UP also squanders inspired comic actors in the process.  It’s kind of fun to see the usually reserved and deadpan master Bateman truly cut loose inhabiting Mitch’s body, but the overall film seems like a dramatic step down for his shrewd and finely attuned comic chops.  Then there is the always solid Leslie Mann that has a real knack for playing her grieving wife roles with an acid tongued vulnerability (granted, she has done it so much that she’s almost become typecast in these parts).  Then there is perhaps the only compelling sub plot in the entire script involving one of Dave’s legal aids, Sabrina (the uber sexy and limitlessly photogenic Olivia Wilde) who seduces Dave while he’s in the body of Mitch.  Dave has always been attracted to her, but has never acted on his urges because of his faithfulness to his wife, whereas Sabrina has always had a submerged crush on the real Dave.  It’s a love triangle that would have make Freud’s head spin. 

Yet, the most offensive element of THE CHANGE-UP is how it hands out profanity, smuttiness, and unseemly content to the point of eliciting migraine headaches and then offers up a cloying bromance finale as Mitch and Dave profess their hetero-love for one another and concludes on a saccharine note on the power of friendship, happiness, marriage, and traditional heart-warming values residing therein.  Huh?  An artificially contrived and hackneyed conclusion coming off a relative smorgasbord of toxic merriment involving urine, feces, sexual perversions, and computer generated baby and boobie shots (the film has been getting much press about its ostensive use of computer simulated nudity)?  THE CHANGE UP does wholeheartedly succeed at proving one thing: the 80’s themed body switch movie is still very much dead and buried as a worthy concept. 

One last note: the film does have one very funny lewd gag that does work.  A frustrated Dave – while in Mitch’s body – masturbates his frustrations away at one point, during which he’s interrupted by Mitch – still in Dave’s body – calling him.  Mitch rightfully mentions that it’s kind of weird that Dave is jerking off with his best buddy’s penis.  

One word: awwwwkward.  

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