The Change-Up (Review)
The Change-Up is disgusting, mean-spirited, boring, unfunny, and colossally disappointing.
The “body-swap” pseudo-genre of cinema is usually a clever and entertaining genre of film to watch. Much of the genre’s charm comes from watching two actors try to emulate each other, such as Nicolas Cage and John Travolta in Face/Off, or Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris in Freaky Friday. The allure of seeing Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds become each other sounded too good to be true. As it turns out, it was; The Change-Up doesn’t nail that comedic art, but it does, in its first five minutes, feature two sets of genitalia, a baby banging its head against its crib, and a man getting feces sprayed into his eyes and into his mouth. If that sounds funny, stop reading now and go see The Change-Up.
The poor sap at the opening to the movie is David, played by Jason Bateman. David has worked hard all his life to be where he is today, as a high-level lawyer at a law firm. Dave is a workaholic, and he and his wife may have more problems than he realizes. Dave’s longtime buddy is Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) a pothead and slacker who does nothing all day in a suspiciously nice-looking apartment (this is never explained). On a guy’s night out, Dave and Mitch stumble drunkenly out of a bar, discussing each others’ lives. As they begin to urinate into a fountain, they simultaneously wish out loud that they had each other’s life. Of course, they wake up the next morning with the wish fulfilled. Mitch suddenly realizes that he has to assume more responsibility than he has ever had in his life, and Dave has to fulfill Mitch’s busy schedule of sexual deviance and starring in pornographic films.
The Change-Up‘s main comedic crutch is a boatload of extremely nasty humor. Countless jokes involving genitalia, feces, race, and sex, disgusting nudity, an exhausting amount of profanity, and a surprising mean streak punctuate nearly every minute of the script. An aggressive amount of mean and vulgar humor can, sometimes, be funny, but in The Change-Up it feels extremely forced and tasteless. When the movie finally attempts to go for some emotion (which is in itself fleeting), it barely registers because the film has already spent ninety minutes pounding its audience into submission with its shocking humor. It’s a poor substitute for actual comedy, and while it was sometimes funny, for the most part it was met with a silent theater (save for the loud family near the top).
I think what is the most disappointing about this movie is that none of the actors here are normally bad at what they do. Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds are two of my favorite actors, and their chemistry really shows here. Leslie Mann has the gift of making almost any movie instantly better, and the astonishingly beautiful Olivia Wilde brightens any scene she is in. All four of these actors are immensely capable of delivering believable performances, and are clearly trying their hardest here to do so, but the writing and directing does them no favors and they have very little to work with. It rarely feels like Bateman and Reynolds seem to be in each other’s bodies; it feels more like Bateman trying to be as vulgar as he can, and Reynolds being slightly less so. The actors don’t do a very good job of trying to emulate each other, and it never felt “natural” (if you can call this sort of movie “natural”).
The plot even misses the point when it comes to the big resolution and emotional ending. Generally in a body-swap movie, the two main characters eventually learn how to better live their respective lives. One would hope that Dave would stop focusing so much on his job and focus more on his failing marriage and lonely family. He kind of does, but it also never really feels complete since it’s something he was aware of even before the switch. Mitch, on the other hand, would need to stop being such a slacker and sexual deviant, and get some more ambition and less marijuana in his wife. All it seems that he does is find out that he is a “quitter”…and that’s it. Even when they are in each other’s bodies, Mitch (as Dave) starts to work hard while Dave’s wife becomes even more distraught, and Dave (as Mitch) has a blast doing whatever he wants. The character arcs never feel complete and the movie feels half-baked as a result.
The Change-Up seemed like a great formula for a winning comedy: the writers of The Hangover, combined with the director of Wedding Crashers, and with the acting talents of Bateman, Reynolds, Mann and Wilde thrown in as well could have been perfect. Instead, the writers chose to take the low road and fill their script not with clever, entertaining humor, but with brutalizing, disgusting gags merely for shock value. The attempts at emotion are rather halfhearted except until the very end, when it was a nice reprieve. Unfortunately, those last ten minutes do very little to redeem the rest of the film. At best, The Change-Up is a somewhat funny, mildly charming comedy. At worst, it is a colossal misfire and a travesty of a comedy film that wastes all of the talent involved.
Score: * (out of 5)
Rated: R for pervasive strong crude sexual content and language, some graphic nudity and drug use.