Film Review: “The Change-Up”

by Jason LeRoy on August 5, 2011

Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds in THE CHANGE-UP

starring: Jason Bateman, Ryan Reynolds, Leslie Mann, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin

written by: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore

directed by: David Dobkin

MPAA: Rated R for pervasive strong crude sexual content and language, some graphic nudity and drug use

The Change-Up wants very badly to be your dude comedy of choice for the month of August. It has the credentials: director David Dobkin helmed Wedding Crashers, and writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore are the individuals responsible for The Hangover. It has ubiquitously likeable stars like Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds (where’s Sudeikis?). And it has enough poop, boobs, and fucks (the word, not the deed) to guarantee the R-rating of which it is so proud. What it’s missing is that most important signifier of comedy: laughs.

Dave (Bateman) and Mitch (Reynolds) are age-old friends. Their friendship supposedly dates back to their school days, despite the fact that Reynolds is nearly a decade younger, a detail I couldn’t get past (“Why is Reynolds acting like he’s as old as Bateman?” – me during this entire movie). But they’ve settled into very different lives. Dave is an overworked lawyer trying to make partner at his law firm while also being a husband to his wife, Jamie (Leslie Mann), and a father to their three children. Meanwhile, Mitch is a lazy party-boy who lives off his father’s (Alan Arkin) money.

One night, Dave and Mitch go on a drunken bro date and find themselves peeing in the same fountain. As they lament how they wish they had each other’s lives, all the electricity dramatically goes out. When it comes back on, the boys think nothing of it and go their separate ways. But when they wake up the next morning, they discover that they’ve somehow (you’ll never guess) switched bodies. Shenanigans ensue.

It’s a thin and tired premise, and the film brings absolutely nothing new to it. Furthermore, Bateman and Reynolds aren’t nearly different enough to make this remarkable. Each embodies a dull, overly familiar male archetype: the hard-working family man and the decadent slacker. But they’re both still handsome 30ish/40ish straight white guys with money. Even Freaky Friday pushed the envelope further.

The actors are game, especially Bateman. He clearly relishes every last horrifying vulgarity he gets to spout when he “becomes” Mitch. But like the film, he seems to be trying too hard to be raunchy. The line where variations on the word “fuck” cease to be funny is crossed within the first five minutes, and yet it soldiers determinedly on, confident that the audience will confuse swearing for jokes. Reynolds gets the short end of the stick, starting out as basically the kind of low-rent character he would have played in his Van Wilder days, and then being forced to play the straight guy when he “becomes” Dave.

As always, hallelujah for Leslie Mann. She is playing yet another harried wife, but she plays it with such hilarious and heartbreaking conviction. She is endlessly better than the film she is in. I personally found her performance more moving than anything in Crazy, Stupid, Love. Olivia Wilde shows up as the obligatory eye-candy coworker at Dave’s office, but gives a surprisingly high-powered performance. This girl might have some personality after all!

The Change-Up thinks that if it relentlessly hammers its audience with a rapid succession of poop gags and vulgarity with the occasional titty flash, it will succeed in its goal of becoming an outrageous hard-R dude comedy. It also thinks that audiences are so enamored of Bateman and Reynolds that we’ll happily watch a body-switch movie about them, despite the fact that they’re about as different as Dermot Mulroney and Dylan McDermott, which renders the concept utterly meaningless. The Change-Up is wrong.

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