The old body-switcheroo
The body-swap premise isn’t exactly the highest-regarded of the comedy genre. There are exceptions, but it does seem to imply a desperate wackiness that’s just an excuse for fish out of water antics. But The Change-Up does star two very fine comic actors in Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds, so we went in hopes that they signed on for a good reason.
Dave (Bateman) is a workaholic family man who has three children with his beautiful wife Jamie (Leslie Mann). His best friend Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) is a foul-mouthed slacker with no responsibilities and lots of time for meaningless sex and getting high. Both envy each other’s life, and one night, after pissing in a fountain and wishing, they wake up in each other’s bodies. Can they live each other’s lives while waiting for the chance to change back?
The Change-Up starts surprisingly strong. There’s an elaborate nappy-changing poop-gag that had us giggling, mainly for the shocked expression on Bateman’s face. It’s also good to see Reynolds in a comedy again, and he shows he can still pull off “likeable asshole” with aplomb. The two actors have good chemistry both with each other and with the underrated Mann (Knocked Up). For the first fifteen minutes, we were laughing fairly consistently.
But when the change-up itself actually happens, the film can’t maintain the rate of decent jokes. Interestingly, Reynolds is much more comfortable playing Jason Bateman than Bateman is at playing Ryan Reynolds. This might just be a consequence of the script, which has Mitch-as-Dave being actually pretty horrible to Jamie and the kids, while Dave-as-Mitch suffers through acting in some “light-porno” before realising he has time to read Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, learn to roller-skate, and masturbate in peace. While Mitch-as-Dave must learn to be a responsible adult, Dave-as-Mitch must decide whether he would actually like to sleep with his incredibly sexy and fun colleague Sabrina (Olivia Wilde). But the fact is, while Bateman clearly has a lot of fun playing against type, it’s hard to find the character’s antics amusing when he’s such a tool.
There’s a ton of swearing, gross-out humour, not to mention nudity (some of it apparently digitally altered), as the filmmakers aim for grown-up and filthy. Some of it works (mostly thanks to Reynolds and Bateman) but there is too much that misses the mark. Meanwhile, Mann is given a couple of good moments and there is an attempt made to give her character a bit of depth, but essentially the character is lied to and treated horribly. Can someone give this actress a comedy of her own instead of casting her as the put-upon spouse, please?
Verdict: It’s certainly not terrible, with Reynolds, Bateman, and Mann on form, but it’s inconsistent and overlong.