Vice Versa, by David Bax
Two long years ago, The Hangover hit theaters and broke box office records, surpassing Beverly Hills Cop to become the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time. This summer, we are clearly seeing the repercussions of that momentous event. Not only are we basking in the glow of The Hangover Part II but we’ve also had Bridesmaids, Bad Teacher, Horrible Bosses and Friends with Benefits to tickle and titillate with coarse comedy. Add to that list The Change-Up, from director David Dobkin (of another profitable R-rated comedy, Wedding Crashers).
Dobkin’s new film begins with a barrage of gross-out humor, introducing Jason Bateman’s David changing the diapers of his twin babies. It seems he would do better, perhaps, to change their diets. David is the husband, father and successful lawyer who maintains ties with his childhood friend, the pot-smoking, sporadically employed actor Mitch, played by Ryan Reynolds. Mitch’s introduction is similarly inelegant, if a little funnier, shouting a string of profanity and vulgarity into the phone. It’s as if the movie is trying to distract us with all this juvenilia to keep us from noticing that we’re about to step into one of the most appropriately maligned sub-genres in all of cinema, the body-change story.
You’d think, at this point, that any movie about two consciousnesses switching bodies would, out of necessity, have to be a parody. But The Change-Up is insistent that you take its conceit at face-value, even as it hits all the plot points and thematic developments that you could have predicted from the poster. Obviously, the slacker type is going to deal with the children in the most uproariously irreverent way. Obviously the buttoned-down married man is going to be hilariously tempted by all the loose women his friend knows. And of course the two men are ultimately going to realize just what they’ve been taking for granted in their own lives all along. Don’t despair, however, because this time around, there’s lots of nudity, astoundingly uninspired “shock” humor, and multiple, creative utterances of the word “fuck.”
The people who get to say “fuck,” though, are doing their best to keep the movie afloat. Bateman and Reynolds are swinging for the fences and finding the comedy in their characters and situation wherever they can. Leslie Mann plays her role as the symbol of what’s really important in David’s life with more emotional honesty and consideration than the screenwriters probably intended. Even Gregory Itzin makes the most of a couple choice lines as David’s snobby, racist boss.
Only Bateman, though, actually makes you forget what a bad movie you’re watching from time to time. Since he so often plays the level-headed, responsible good guy, he is undeniably having a blast as the feckless cad. In his best scenes, he does Ryan Reynolds better than Ryan Reynolds.
Sadly, Jason Bateman was not in charge of the whole movie. In fact, it’s hard to tell quite who was. The film shows signs of having been written, edited and perhaps even directed by committee. The timeline doesn’t make sense. It’s unclear whether the body switch lasts a week or a month. An astonishing number of things happen in one day. Meanwhile, nods toward the reality of the film’s world (such as the leads’ incompetence at each other’s jobs) are introduced and then cast aside when they are no longer convenient. The film picks up whatever contrivance is closest at hand and then reinvents itself whenever it needs an excuse to get to the next off-color scene or unearned sentimental speech.
The Change-Up is exuberantly, if unimaginatively, naughty but never enough so to overcome the inherent predictability of its premise and themes. The most shocking thing about the film is that its makers thought for a second that we wouldn’t notice how lazy it is.