Welcome to the World of "Xtreme Gross-out Film Competition!"
That is, unfortunately, the way it seems as the writers of The Hangover and The Hangover 2 -- Jon Lucas and Scott Moore -- try to out-do themselves, and every other raunchy humor film of the year, with the script for The Change-Up.
Director David Dobkin (The Wedding Crashers) could have given us a better and funnier film if he’d just resisted the temptation to sink to the lowest level and dwell with the bottom-feeders.
The Change-Up stars Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds as Dave Lockwood and Mitch Planko, best friends since 3rd grade who end up switching bodies thanks to a magical fountain. It’s the whole polar opposite thing. Dave (Bateman) is an over-achieving, successful attorney and family man while Mitch (Reynolds) is a mostly-unemployed actor who lives like a college freshman in a frat house. After a drunken night out, each briefly wishes for the other’s life, and you know the rest. The first mystery for me is how Dobkin got fine actors like Bateman and Reynolds to play these one-dimensional characters. It’s impossible to believe that these two characters would have remained friends all these years.
The identity-switching story line has been done better. To succeed, it needs to be at least minimally plausible. After the switch, Mitch finds that Dave is about to close a big merger that will make him a partner in his firm. The idea that a high-school drop-out could even fake this is absurd. Dave, on the other hand, finds that the major role Mitch has lined up is actually an extremely low-budget, “lorn” (light porn) film. As Mitch explains to Dave, “the d**k stays in the pants”. This scene could have been really funny if it had been just a bit more subtle. Let’s just say that “too much information” doesn’t begin to cover it. Craig Bierko has a nice turn playing Valtan, the sleazy director ,and Taaffe O’Connel displays absolutely no inhibitions as Mona, the 60-ish female lead. Meanwhile, in Dave’s body, Mitch blunders his way through a high-level meeting and tries to set up a little romance with Sabrina (Olivia Wilde), a law-associate on whom Dave has a major crush. Leslie Mann risks being type-cast as she once again plays the put-upon wife of a clueless man involved in a “bro-mance” with his best friend. As time passes, both men realize that they want their own lives back, but the fountain has been moved. Misadventures ensue as they try desperately to find it.
Ryan Reynolds is the best thing in this film. In fact, his performance is the one thing that prevented me from giving the film a lower rating. He fares much better at “imitating” Jason Bateman’s character’s quirks and habits than Bateman does at “imitating” Reynold’s character. Bateman seems awkward out of familiar territory. He usually plays the sardonic, straight-man, and he does that very well. But as the clownish, screw-up, he’s less skillful. Reynolds, on the other hand, uses his impossibly handsome face to convey an innocence that somehow makes even the most extreme character seem real. His comic timing is impeccable. Olivia Wilde has little to do other than to look hot, which she certainly does. The marvelous Alan Arkin, cast as Mitch’s much-married father, is wasted in the little amount of screen time he’s given. He mainly looks befuddled. The real credibility problem lies in the supporting characters’ reactions to the ridiculous behavior of the “changed-up” men.
There are some truly funny scenes in the film that give us a hint at what this film could have been. A little restraint is sometimes a good thing. Both Bateman and Reynolds have said in interviews that this film is R-rated with a “capital R”. Verbally, it’s a veritable f**k fest. You may, in fact, become totally de-sensitized to the F-word. It’s ubiquitous. Bateman’s character has 3 children -- an elementary school-aged daughter and infant twins. The kind of hard-core profanity in this film spoken in the presence of children, and sometimes directed at them, is never funny. I found myself wondering what kind of parents would allow their children to be exposed to it. But, then again, the man sitting next to me in the theater had his two sons, who looked to be around 6 and 8, with him.
Now, that’s just plain disturbing.