We've Seen This Movie Before
The body-swap flick gets a raunchy R-rated makeover in David Dobkins’ The Change-up, a film that fails to counter its smutty better half with anything other than schmaltzy, sentimental hogwash. So, instead of Wedding Crashers meets Freaky Friday, we get Judd Apatow does 18 Again.
We’ve seen this movie before. But like a crackhead looking for another fix, Hollywood revisits. Two people spend a day in each other’s shoes, awkward situations follow, lessons are learned, then real identities are reassumed. Excuse me, this is where I came in. Screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore know we’ve been down this road before, but their attempted spin on the genre -- a hard-R rating -- falls miserably short in a heap of cgi baby poop and failed sensitivity.
Following a night of drunken reminiscing and a bromantic declaration -- while urinating in a public fountain -- of how much they envy each other’s life, bong-hitting slacker Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) and family man power-attorney Dave (Jason Bateman) roll out of bed the next day and realize their ill-conceived dream has come true. But despite the newfound freedom from their normal routines and habits, the guys soon discover that each other’s lives are nowhere near as rosy as they seemed the night before.
Further complicating matters are Dave’s suspicious wife Jamie, (Leslie Mann), his sexy co-worker Sabrina (Olivia Wilde) and Mitch’s estranged father (Alan Arkin). Mann is basically the same character from her 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up roles, as at ease with knocking down edgy zingers as she is at crumbling into a heap of tears. Wilde is Dave’s forbidden fruit who suddenly becomes irresistibly “available” after the change-up. Arkin is sorely misused as Mitch’s loveable but acerbic father who comes down on Mitch for basically wasting his life away. He shows up at the beginning and end of the film making us wonder if his other scenes were left on the cutting room floor.
Most body-swap comedies have found success in the comedy gold to be mined from characters of different ages who swap bodies, spend most of their time apart, and then gain a greater appreciation of each other before changing back. But the gimmick here is that Mitch and Dave are grown men of the same age. This provides Dobkin with a fertile, carnal playground, which he uses to the fullest with excrement sight gags, homophobe jokes, potty-mouthed dialogue and plenty of nudity. Mitch and Dave frequently consult each other on unfamiliar topics such as booty calls, diaper changes, and how often Dave’s wife likes to have sex.
Dobkin and company want us to believe they’re going somewhere different with this one. And initially, it feels like they are. After all, we can’t think of another film where the act of pissing in the fountain of the Greek goddess Metis is used as a catalyst for a character swap. But rather than peppering the well-worn formula with a wink-and-a-nod to those body-swap films that came before it -- similar to what Paul did to alien-invasion flicks -- The Change-Up does exactly what they’ve all done. It sticks to the formula. And by the way, a hard-R rating isn’t enough to separate it from the chaff.
Granted, Bateman and Reynolds are worthy comic actors and it is actually quite entertaining watching Bateman do Reynolds – and vice-versa. They’re not the reason The Change-Up fails to strike a chord. Rather, it’s the jarring juxtaposition of raunch and heart that the film’s makers fail to handle appropriately. In trying to counter its bawdiness, The Change-Up overcompensates with a tone that suddenly lurches to one of shallow, weepy sentimentality. There’s critical value in striking that perfect balance between naughty humor and genuine heart. Unfortunately, they didn’t find it here.
Here’s an idea for a change-up. How about stop revisiting this weary genre?
(Released by Universal Pictures and rated “R” for pervasive strong crude sexual content and language, some graphic nudity and drug use.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.