The Change-Up resorts to bathroom humor by literally putting characters on the toilet in a weak attempt to outdo the recent trend in R-rated comedy. And the result is pretty stinky.
In this limp summer offering, each of two childhood friends gazes longingly over the fence at the other’s home, where they believe the grass is greener. Mitch Planko (Ryan Reynolds) is a wannabe actor living the shameless life of a bachelor. He shares crazy stories of his sexual conquests with best friend Dave Lockwood (Jason Bateman), a boring married attorney and father of three. Mitch colorfully describes the various positions employed in the bedroom telling Dave he’s even done something called “the Arsenio Hall.” Such chatty dialogue is worth a laugh mainly because we don’t have to sit through the act described. But the makers of The Change-Up take things much farther, to considerably less humorous effect.
We meet Dave’s beautiful wife Jamie (Leslie Mann), who’s struggling with Dave’s workaholic lifestyle. The couple has twins and an older daughter. In the film’s ridiculous opening scene, while Dave is changing a diaper, one of the children has an accident that lands on Dave’s face and into his mouth. The scene continues and Dave is shown wearing the accident while sitting on his couch feeding his children. Such foolishness sets the tone for the low end fantasy that is to follow.
We all know the body-switch comedy drill. After a night of heavy drinking, Mitch and Dave relieve themselves in a park fountain. They playfully wish aloud that they had the other’s life. And they awake the next morning in the body of the other. Mitch is now Dave and Dave is now Mitch.
It’s as if the writers of this film, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who were responsible for The Hangover and its sequel, are afraid to give us authentic funny moments that parents really experience. Instead we get gonzo sequences aimed at a broad spectrum of viewers. For example, one of the twins repeatedly bangs his head, in a fast and violent way, against his crib. It evokes a chuckle but then it just seems weird. And the movie is filled with this kind of nonsense. Parents and adults in general deserve better, smarter R-rated comedies that tweak but don’t utterly pervert the things we all experience.
It’s not as if you’d be expecting a bitter dose of reality in a summer body-switch comedy, but it’s really hard to relate to any of the characters in The Change-Up. And that’s even true when they are sitting on the commode. Poor Leslie Mann is a really good sport here and in one thankless scene bares all only to end up in the bathroom, a theme that’s continued throughout the film. The filmmakers here seem to think that they can refresh the once wholesome fantastical plot device that was popularized back in 1976 with Jodie Foster in Disney’s Freaky Friday by making it as crude as possible. And that approach could have worked had the humor been more grounded.
One of the joys of the body-switch comedy over the years has been watching two talented actors take on the personality of the other when the change over takes place. In 1997’s Face/Off, the action sequences were typical stylized John Woo, but the movie worked because watching John Travolta become Nicolas Cage and vice versa was so entertaining. Both actors studied one another’s mannerisms and traits, mimicking them seamlessly. In The Change-Up two talented actors, Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds, try on the switch in the most uninspired way. The personalities are marked by one character blurting out a series of expletives and the other—well, it’s really hard to tell them apart. There just aren’t that many personality traits that set one character apart from the other.
By blatantly trying to one-up the other irreverent comedies of late, The Change-Up proves that change isn’t always a good thing.