A film review by Craig J. Koban August 17, 2011
2011, R, 113 mins.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.