Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Jason Bateman, Leslie Mann, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin
Rating: R, for pervasive strong crude sexual content and language, nudity and drug use
“The Change-Up” makes me want to gather signatures for a petition to be circulated throughout Hollywood, demanding a moratorium on three things:
* Body-swap movies. I suppose this premise goes back to Mark Twain’s “The Prince and the Pauper,” but it didn’t become a movie subgenre until the original “Freaky Friday,” in 1976. Since then, we’ve endured “All of Me,” “Vice Versa,” “Dream a Little Dream,” “18 Again,” “Like Father, Like Son,” a remake of “Freaky Friday,” “It’s a Boy Girl Thing” and … you get the idea. Enough, already!
* Flying excrement. Apparently, this is considered the height of vulgar humor these days. And with the initial envelope having been shredded, now we’re scraping bottom by making the consequences worse.
Ergo, in “The Change-Up,” dedicated daddy Dave Lockwood (Jason Bateman), pulling late-night diaper duty, winds up with a mouthful of projectile poop. What’s next … being forced to watch the victim involuntarily swallow?
* Deliberately unpalatable nudity, often blended with kinky sex. Once again, numbnuts writers chase each other down the drain of depravity, looking to break yet another taboo. In this case, career horndog Mitch Planko (Ryan Reynolds) enjoys getting it on with a nine-months-pregnant hottie. Whom we see in the altogether.
Note: The scene is designed not to demonstrate the radiant, healthy sexuality of a pregnant woman — which I’m sure is uppermost on the minds of all pregnant women — but solely for a cheap, gross-out laugh. Making it offensive on two levels.
As expected, “The Change-Up” is nothing more than yet another of this year’s tedious and vulgar moron comedies: a derivative, desperate, deliberately disgusting waste of its stars’ talents.
Bateman and Reynolds are funny guys. No question. Reynolds demonstrated quite a flair for physical and situational comedy with 2009’s “The Proposal,” and Bateman has been the best part of numerous misfired flicks that didn’t deserve his participation. (Honestly, Jason, you need a better agent.)
Director David Dobkin previously brought us “Wedding Crashers” and “Fred Claus,” so he’s obviously accustomed to lowest-common-denominator humor. Nothing wrong with that, as long as something about the project feels fresh; casting and energy deservedly turned “Wedding Crashers” into a hit.
But “The Change-Up” feels like something cobbled together by a couple of junior high school lads seeking to include as much profanity and as many bare breasts as possible.
No surprise there: Scripters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore come to us from “Four Christmases” and both “Hangover” entries. I cite all these titles to let fans of the above-mentioned flicks know that they’ll be in familiar territory here.
Or perhaps not. “The Change-Up” attempts to wring a moral from its tired, high-concept premise, and that works against the arrested adolescent hijinks crammed into damn near every scene.
Dave is a successful but workaholic lawyer who has little time for his wife (Leslie Mann, as Jamie), grade school-age daughter (adorable Sydney Rouviere, as Cara) and infant twins. Dave’s best friend, Mitch, is a terminal slacker pretending to pursue an acting career, while mostly bagging as much two-legged booty as possible. Mitch is a constant disappointment to his father (Alan Arkin), a character whose presence in this film couldn’t be more pointlessly superfluous.
Despite having absolutely nothing in common, Dave and Mitch are bestest buds. As such, they take in a game one night at a local pub, stop on the way home to empty their bladders in a public fountain containing A Mysterious Statue, and unwisely, drunkenly wish for each other’s lives.
And, upon waking the following morning, find that the ill-advised wish has come to pass.
Because of Lucas and Moore’s obsession with coarseness for its own sake, we’re then treated to ha-ha sequences of Mitch, pretending to be Dave, disrupting an important merger meeting with boorish behavior and foul language, and Dave, stuck in Mitch’s body, discovering that his friend’s “acting” career involves starring in a “lorno” (light porno) flick.
Mind you, all this nonsense is delivered with the slapstick crudity of a Three Stooges short, so if that was Dobkin’s desired tone, I’d say he nailed it.
But then … but then…
The object of the exercise, we eventually realize, is that walking in each other’s shoes will help Dave and Mitch become better versions of themselves. Dave, in his friend’s slacker body, embraces the simple joys of stopping to smell the coffee. Mitch, forced to prevent his best friend’s career from winding up in the dumper, learns the satisfaction of doing a job well, and seeing it through to completion.
Some of this is actually rather sweet, as when Mitch (in Dave’s body) earns a well-deserved declaration of love from young Cara. And it’s pretty funny when Mitch and Dave unwisely attempt to explain their predicament to Jamie, who of course doesn’t believe them; Dave (in Mitch’s body) keeps demanding intimate questions from his wife, but never knows the answers … and Mitch (in Dave’s body) does.
That’s one of Mann’s good scenes. Sadly, she’s too frequently stuck with “humor” much lower on the scale, as when she heads into the bathroom to relieve herself of some explosive flatulence. “Gotta watch the Thai food,” she mutters to an appalled Mitch (in Dave’s body), and we wonder what the heck she’s saying, because we’ve just watched them enjoy a traditional chicken, potatoes and vegetables dinner. At home.
But hey: Who said continuity meant anything?
In fairness, some of the fish-out-of-water catastrophes are hilarious, particularly the first time Mitch (in Dave’s body) must deal with feeding and changing the Lockwood twins at 3 a.m. As he hauled them into the kitchen like suitcases, I marveled at the magic of special effects.
Then, too, Olivia Wilde contributes plenty of energy as Sabrina, Dave’s intelligent and stunningly gorgeous legal assistant … who, it turns out, has her own mischievous streak. But Wilde is savvy and talented enough to make her carnal desires enticing and erotic, whereas Bateman and Reynolds rarely rise above the undisciplined horniness of a 10-year-old boy.
Ultimately, the problems here are a function of scale. A bit of vulgarity, particularly under unexpected circumstances, is funny; a little more can be very funny. Constant vulgarity, in great contrast, quickly becomes tiresome.
For this reason, and others, this film wears out its welcome about half an hour shy of its 112 minutes, while en route to a predictably happy/sappy conclusion with no surprises whatsoever.
All involved can do better. Should do better.
— Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at http://derrickbang.blogspot.com. Comment on this review at www.davisenterprise.com