Comedy, 112 Minutes, 2011
There’s no way to ignore the elephant in the room here: the premise of this movie is (to be as absolutely forgiving as possible) is as worn as the tissues your grandmother keeps stuffed up her sleeve. On the ranking of archetypical stories it falls someplace at the bottom of the list along with low-rent standards like “dog that thinks it’s people” or “stripper fights crime.”
That said even the most tired of premises dredged from the dryest of wells can sometimes be temporarily elevated by the right circumstances. For the “Body swapping” genre this is exemplified by the essential Farscape episode “Out of Their Minds” [IMDB] which tossed all the clichés out on their bony asses and created something truly special.
But we’re here to talk about “The Change-up” which actually ended up being very entertaining but never due to the premise. All of the good parts of this movie (and there were many) revolved around situations where the “switch” had little meaning. A better script might incorporated mistaken identity or mid-life crisis as the drivers. In the end the whole body-switch thing seems like a lazy way to get someplace not very far away.
In a lot of ways this is just what you’d expect: a vulgar, adult “Freaky Friday” clone. Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) and Dave (Jason Bateman) are both very likable and broken in their own way – and time spent in the other’s shoes help them to overcome their problems in the end. But all those parts – where they’re trying to live AS the other person are kind of lame and lifeless. In contrast the scenes where they’re living as themselves – whether in their own body or not – are by far the best of the movie. This really could have been rewritten as a straight odd-couple buddy movie and kept nearly all the gold.
Less severely the movie really didn’t know what it wanted to do with Dave. Our first scene – and the most hilarious by far – shows our family man getting up to feed his infant twins. Later we see him bathing his children, making time for recitals and generally being an excellent father and husband. Yet the script constantly whines about how he’s become a driven, workaholic with no time for anything but the current deal.
Comedies aren’t normally called-out for their effects but this movie shows how judicious use of quality CGI can really sell a gag. The “headbanger baby” segment had us all laughing out loud from the enhanced visual and Bateman’s perfected straight-man response.
Some people may be turned off by the (mostly needless) vulgarity but it’s no worse than any other recent comedy. Others will definitely be turned off by the (also mostly needless) premise. Balancing that however are good, likable performances by the two leads and a handful of truly excellent moments. So give it a watch, but be warned that over-thinking it will tarnish the experience.