Change-Up, The (United States, 2011)

August 03, 2011
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Change-Up, The Poster

The Change-Up has designs of being the next big raunchy comedy of the Summer of 2011, following on the heels of Bridesmaids, The Hangover Part II, Bad Teacher, and Horrible Bosses. However, while there's sufficient profanity, sex, nudity, and excrement to justify the R-rating, it's hard to argue that The Change-Up pushes envelopes. Distilled to its basics, it's little more than a sit-com that has been tarted up with scenes of projectile poop, odd sexual fetishes, and knife wielding babies. It all seems a little tired and, more importantly, not as funny as it should be.

I have heard The Change-Up described as "Freaky Friday for adults," which is grossly inaccurate (accent on "gross"). The only thing The Change-Up has in common with Freaky Friday (both the original and the remake) is that both involve body swaps. This is an old and not well-regarded genre. Most of its entries are horrible, a few are watchable, and it's hard to come up with one that lives up to its potential. It should be noted that The Change-Up is not Like Father, Like Son bad, but neither does it set a new standard for this kind of movie. Tone down the profanity, limit the kinky sex, and this would make a passable 9 p.m. weekly network TV show. I wouldn't watch it, but I don't watch much TV.

The Change-Up spends a little time setting up best friends and polar opposites Mitch Planko (Ryan Reynolds) and Dave Lockwood (Jason Bateman). Mitch is a confirmed bachelor who lives in a hovel of an apartment, spends his time sleeping late and smoking weed, has sex with a new woman seemingly every week, and is pursuing a career he loves: acting. Dave on the other hand, is in a stagnant marriage with Jamie (Leslie Mann), has three children (two toddlers), and works a high-profile law job that consumes his time. One night, while watching a baseball game on TV at a bar, the two express mutual envy. Later, while pissing in a fountain, they re-iterate their "grass is always greener" feelings and magic happens. The next morning, Mitch awakens in bed with Jamie, and Dave opens his eyes alone in Mitch's hovel. They spend the next hour's screen time trying to figure out how to get back in the right bodies, then 30 minutes wondering if that's what they really want.

The screenplay, credited to Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (the writers of The Hangover), is mediocre. There are some funny moments, but not enough of them to justify a nearly two-hour running length. Shock humor that worked in The Hangover is not as effective here. There's only so much mileage one can get out of the word "fuck" before it becomes repetitious. Director David Dobkin, who is probably best remembered for Wedding Crashers (and less kindly for Fred Claus), does not have a deft comedic touch - his is more the sledgehammer variety - but he's good enough to milk a few laughs from some of the more outrageous scenes. The acting, however, gives some life to an otherwise unremarkable production. Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman don't merely mug for the cameras - they imitate each other in unfamiliar bodies and are entirely convincing. Mitch and Dave are consistent characters regardless of who is playing them; this is a credit to the actors. Leslie Mann also provides a solid performance that walks the tightrope between comedy and melodrama; it's an affecting portrayal. Olivia Wilde's part, as the co-worker for whom Dave has the hots, is underwritten, but she fits the bill of looking great in and out of her clothing.

The Change-Up may be remembered as the first movie in which the concept of "screen nudity" has been redefined. As this movie proves, no longer is it necessary for an actress to remove her clothing to appear naked. CGI can create more "ideal" breasts than implants; that happens on several occasions here. How much of the nudity is real and how much was lovingly crafted on an artist's computer? The filmmakers aren't talking but there's an artificiality to more than one shot that reminds one of photoshopping, except in this case it's recreation rather than merely touching up.

The Change-Up isn't a complete failure - it's an adequate re-exploration of a genre that was worn out in the 1980s - but the lack of an edge is its undoing. A barrage of profanity is not inherently funny. Tastelessness does not equate to comedic genius. The film takes chances but pulls back, unwilling to venture too far into the dark territory where The Hangover wallowed. The ending wraps everything up in neat packages, complete with bows and ribbons. The attempts at drama - especially regarding Dave's growing recognition of how much his family means to him and his reaction to Jamie's tearful confession when he's in Mitch's body - are half-baked. We grow to care about the characters but no so deeply that we're likely to remember them after the end credits have rolled. The Change-Up is a comedy and we're in the audience to laugh. To that end, it delivers but with limitations. It's sporadically funny but the humor isn't consistent. As a harmless, forgettable throw-away night out, this is adequate, but as a Big Summer Movie, it's a disappointment.

Change-Up, The (United States, 2011)

Director: David Dobkin
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jason Bateman, Leslie Mann, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, Gergory Itzin
Screenplay: Jon Lucas & Scott Moore
Cinematography: Eric Edwards
Music: John Debney
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1:51
U.S. Release Date: 2011-08-05
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Content, Nudity, Drugs)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1