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Other than Big back in 1988 and the two Freaky Friday films, body-switching comedies rarely pan out. All those plot mechanics and far-out magic just to deliver a foregone conclusion that the grass isn’t necessarily greener yada, yada, yada. The Change-Up bravely attempts to revive the dormant subgenre but it’s a lame effort that grows increasingly frantic and foul-mouthed as the realization sets in that the gimmick isn’t working.
With Ryan Reynolds, Jason Bateman, the lovely Leslie Mann and current “It girl” Olivia Wilde co-starring, the R-rated comedy from Universal should enjoy a solid opening weekend and may wind up with the positive box-office numbers of Bateman’s other R-rated comedy this summer, Horrible Bosses.
What entertainment the film offers is that of the familiar and inevitable. Audiences can anticipate every plot turn well in advance and the outcome is never in doubt. The fun, if you will, lies in seeing Reynolds and Bateman playing each other’s characters in the wrong body and thereby fouling up their respective lives.
If they met today, Mitch (Reynolds) and Dave (Bateman) would never strike up a friendship. But they grew up together and although they also grew apart — hugely apart — the bond sticks. Mitch is a man-child frat boy, who refuses to mature. He does claim to be an actor but this clearly isn’t a lucrative pursuit. Dave is an anal-retentive overachiever, a hard-working attorney closing in on a partnership with a grand home in Atlanta, an adoring wife Jamie (Mann) and three great kids — although the infant twins assure him of steady sleeplessness.
During a night of inebriated revelry, the boys do what needs to get done in a body-switching comedy: Each grows envious of the other’s life. Mitch longs for a loving family and stable career while Dave realizes he has worked so hard he missed out on all the “drugs, sex and bad choices.”
While urinating into a public fountain late that night — there is more pissing and defecating in this movie than in a teen comedy — they wish they could switch lives and a somewhat malevolent looking fountain grants the wish. The following day Mitch (as Dave) wakes up lying next to Jamie while Dave (as Mitch) awakens amid the rubble and half-eaten takeout food strewn about Mitch’s bachelor digs.
Panic ensues as the two desperately try to fit into a bewildering new life style. Mitch takes over high-stakes merger talks with a Japanese firm that blow sky high when he clearly knows nothing about the deal and insults the other side. Dave finds himself acting all right — in a porn film.
Each does discover some compensation in his new life: Mitch is aroused by Dave’s incredibly sexy colleague, Sabrina (Wilde). Dave, once he extricates himself from that porno, finds he actually has time to read a book and visit the aquarium.
The film engineers scenes in which the men learn what people really think about them as well as situations that prompt re-examination of values. But writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore never find a way of making these predictable developments funny. Their overused escape route is wildly inappropriate behavior and potty-mouths.
That an irresponsible Mitch would demean women and endanger children’s lives is perhaps understandable. But that Ivy League grad and top lawyer Dave would emulate his immature pal defies credibility. Yet as the writers grow increasingly insecure about their dialogue, situations and characters, the f-bombs multiply and the juvenilia escalates.
Director David Dobkin, who deserves credit for instigating the modern R-rated comedy with Wedding Crashers in 2005, aims for a similar vibe here by directing scenes as broadly as possible while enrolling his male stars in the Jerry Lewis School of Overacting. But Wedding Crashers had a unique premise and somewhat original characters. The Change-Up suffers from a trite story and rote personalities. It even manages to utterly waste one of the best comic actors alive, Alan Arkin, in a throwaway role as Mitch’s perturbed dad.
The use of the urban playground of present day Atlanta is banal: It looks like the location scout picked up a tourist map at the airport. There’s no sense that this story is taking place in the new South. All sites are nondescript, the actual setting depending entirely on what city offered the best incentives.
Productions values therefore are professional but unremarkable.
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