How is 'The Change-Up' different from one of those 1980s 'body-switcher' movies? Well, for starters, it's incredibly raunchy
In the 2010 drama “Every Day,” there’s a scene in which Ned, a TV show writer played by Liev Schreiber, has to pitch story ideas to his crass, ratings-hungry boss, Garrett (Eddie Izzard), who is dead-set on making his show as scandalous and shocking as possible. Ned eagerly throws out one disgusting concept after another, until even the amoral, anything-for-a-laugh Garrett is stunned into silence.
Watching “The Change-Up,” you might wonder if a similar scenario unfolded between director David Dobkin and screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. Here is a movie that begins with Jason Bateman’s face being splattered by a baby’s explosive diarrhea and goes on to include public urination, scrotum shaving, jokes about attempted intercourse with women about to go into labor, gags about over-the-hill porno stars, wisecracks about malfunctioning vibrators, references to various sexual styles, chatter about masturbation techniques, anti-Semitic remarks, jabs at the Japanese and much, much more. Some of it, admittedly, is wildly funny in the vein of the original “Hangover” or “There’s Something About Mary.” But when “The Change-Up” doesn’t work, it’s painful to watch: As they flounder around in search of a laugh, Bateman and co-star Ryan Reynolds practically beg you to throw them life preservers.
In a summer that’s seen a bumper crop of comic raunchiness, courtesy of “The Hangover, Part II,” “Bridesmaids,” “Friends With Benefits,” “Horrible Bosses” and the like, “The Change-Up” still manages to stand out as a truly trashy farce. But it’s also — hold on to your hats — a late-1980s-style body-switcher fantasy, along the lines of “Like Father, Like Son,” “Vice Versa,” “18 Again” and a bunch of other maudlin comedies you probably sat through and forgot about an hour after you left the theater.
Whimsical and dirty-minded, cuddly and crude, “The Change-Up” is a bizarre mixed bag that’s occasionally hilarious, frequently disgusting, sometimes disturbing and ultimately just plain weird.
Lucas and Moore’s set-up is the usual best-buddies-with-completely-different-lives hogwash. Dave Lockwood (Bateman) is a stressed-out corporate lawyer with a neglected wife (Leslie Mann), an impressionable young daughter and a demanding tag team of infant twins. Mitch Planko (Reynolds) is a carefree bachelor and a generally unemployed actor who has made a career of dodging responsibilities and juggling hot numbers. After a few too many beers, Dave confesses he wishes he had Mitch’s life of “sex and drugs and bad choices” and — wouldn’t you know it? — Mitch admits he pines for the security and emotional support Dave has. And, before you can say “Freaky Friday,” well, you can guess the rest.
You may also rest assured that both Mitch and Dave will learn neither situation is as alluring as it seems from the outside. Mitch’s slacker personality — now encased in Dave’s body — is absurdly out of whack with the demands of family life and a law office run by fussy fuddy-duddies, while Dave can’t shake off his inhibitions and morals, even when he’s now in command of Mitch’s stunning physique and his bedroom/playpen, which ought to have its own revolving door.
Bateman and Reynolds sell every scene as if their careers depended on it, and that’s generally enough to make “The Change-Up” worth watching, even when you might prefer to look away. Bateman is particularly sharp in his early sequences shortly after the transformation, when he realizes he has no idea how to properly handle babies (yes, the movie plays child abuse for laughs, too) or what constitutes acceptable business attire. Ingenue-of-the-moment Olivia Wilde adds an extra kick as Dave’s attractive, attentive associate, who doesn’t mind loosening up after office hours, and Mann does what she can to put a little zip and color into the standard confused-wife role.
Dobkin scored a huge hit six summers ago with “Wedding Crashers,” a lively and generally uproarious movie that wore out its welcome when it turned mushy and soft-hearted in the last half-hour. So why should anyone be shocked that the same thing happens in “The Change-Up,” which spends at least 90 minutes arguing that being well-behaved and polite is a sucker’s game before abruptly kowtowing to conventionality as it heads into the home stretch? A film that has wallowed in political incorrectness and frat-house fantasies suddenly becomes a morality play and a ringing endorsement of the glories of suburban daddyhood and modern marriage. Both Mitch and Dave find their heads are spinning from all they’ve had to endure; viewers will identify with the feeling.