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Monday, March 18,2013

Strange 'Change'

How is 'The Change-Up' different from one of those 1980s 'body-switcher' movies? Well, for starters, it's incredibly raunchy

by James Sanford

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.


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