The latest victims of the standard Hollywood body switcheroo plot are Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds. Dave (Bateman) is a workaholic lawyer with a wife and three kids (two of which are newborn kids with a penchant for literally crapping in his face); meanwhile, Mitch (Reynolds) is an aspiring (read: unemployed) actor with little responsibilities and even less tact. After a night of drinking, the two piss into a public fountain and jokingly wish they could see how the other half lives; they must have crossed the streams because their wish comes true when they wake up in each other’s body and proceed to wreck each other’s lives.
The Change-Up gets away with a lot of stuff that it probably shouldn't get away with: a conventional, safe narrative, a low-brow aim, a mean spirit, and an eventual mawkishness. Despite it all, however, it’s funny, almost wickedly so; sure, it’s often inappropriate, what with some of its racist jokes and bawdy laughs about pedophilia (let’s just say the script manages to cram “penis” and “girl scout” into the same sentence), but there’s charming, impish quality to it. Maybe it’s the good natured quality of the leads. We don’t spend a lot of time with them when they’re in their own bodies, but you know the personas being put forth here by Bateman and Reynolds. The former is the laconic, understated, world-weary everyman, while the latter is the sophomoric boor who tornadoes through life offending just about everyone he meets.
Of course, part of the humor comes from seeing the two personas get mixed up; there‘s something inherently funny about a guy referring to a little girl as a “bitch,” but the giggle factor is multiplied when it’s coming out of Bateman’s mouth. It might sound biting and mean in theory, but The Change-Up just feels like the cinematic equivalent of a loudmouth friend who says stupid, tasteless things, only you don’t care because he’s clearly just kidding around. That’s why I found it easy to laugh at a film with scatological gross-out gags and sexual misadventures--or maybe you really are just the company you keep, which might say more about me. At any rate, Bateman and Reynolds make it work--this is a pure, two man show and is essentially a great buddy comedy buried underneath the dick and fart jokes. This is a good example of great casting being able to transcend a tired plot, though many of the gags truly are outrageous; however, they’re made better by the affability of the leads.
That expected mawkishness bleeds through when the two guys begin to learn a few things about themselves and each other. You know these plot beats, and the film has all of the requisite montages that show the two adapting to their new lives, wherein they discover the joys of the other side of the fence. Sentimental stuff for sure (and possibly at odds with how ballsy some of the humor is), but you sort of know it’s coming--you know that Dave will eventually need to figure out to let loose, while Mitch needs to see the values of responsibility and settling down every now and then. Eventually, the two have to hear some loved ones say some honest things about them to their face (only it’s not their face, of course), which are some pretty effective scenes, wrought with soppiness though they may be. Maybe I’m just a sucker for these cornball plots where guys manage to discover the meaning of life at the end of a nightmarish week that culminates with them being forced to piss in public.
There are women in The Change Up. One is Dave’s wife, essayed by Leslie Mann, who is a great, underrated comedic talent; she has a few inappropriate moments of her own, particularly one where she gives some frank, cynical advice to an unsuspecting babysitter. The other woman in Dave’s life is his assistant who is so hot that she seemingly “dropped out of a magazine”; if you’ve seen Olivia Wilde, you’re nodding your head in approval of that description. She’s at the top of Dave’s “cancer list” too (you know, the list of women he’d bang if his wife ever suddenly killed over from cancer), so he unexpectedly gets his shot when he finds himself in Mitch’s body (it’s not cheating, of course, because it’s not his penis!). Anyway, Wilde is fine in a limited role that basically serves to advance Dave’s various realizations; in many ways, the film is more his story than Mitch’s, which makes an already tidy conclusion all the more tidier. But that’s about the only thing that’s really tidy about The Change-Up, which is a raucously vulgar, foul-mouthed display that’ll appeal to you as long as you can crawl back inside of your 13 year old body, which was no doubt inhabited by the same sort of juvenile mind that conceived this. (Brett G.)
Tale of the Tape: