Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Just-okay "Change-Up" arouses more crudities than laughs

The Change-Up (2011)
112 min., rated R.
Grade: C +

This summer at the movies, it's been Attack of the Raunchy R-rated Comedy! And now for a body-switching formula comedy, "The Change-Up" is a "Freaky Friday" bromance, written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore that gave us "The Hangover" and directed by David Dobkin ("Wedding Crashers"). "All of Me," "Like Father, Like Son," "Vice Versa," "18 Again," just to name a few, body-switching comedies apparently have no sell-by date, but the actors trading places hold the key for comedic opportunities. Very early on is a predictable and crass poop joke. During a middle-of-the-night diaper change, projectile poop of a baby girl shoots onto her daddy's face and into his mouth. All in the first five minutes! After that, there's nowhere to go but up. Some down-to-earth sweetness finally develops, but "The Change-Up" remains a smarmy, only intermittently funny version of its full potential. 

Dave (Jason Bateman) is a buttoned-down, workaholic Atlanta lawyer married to Jamie (Leslie Mann) with a precocious 5-year-old daughter and a couple of 2-year-old twins. He has no free time. His childhood best friend, Mitch (Ryan Reynolds), lives like his own Van Wilder with a string of booty-call babes rolling in and out of his man-cave apartment. When he isn't taking bong hits, Mitch tries none too hard to get acting gigs. One night after a lot of drinking, Dave and Mitch say they envy the other's life while urinating in a (magic) fountain. Both say "I wish I had your life" and voila! And as the inciting incident would have it, they switch bodies, and learn their lesson that the grass is always greener on the other side. Crazy hijinks ensue. Mitch, as Dave, must make partner at Dave's law firm, while Dave, as Mitch, must show up to hair and makeup at a "lorno" (lite porno). 

Like all movies of the body-switching staple to come before this one, the fun is all in two actors playing each other. John Travolta and Nicolas Cage exchanged identities in "Face/Off," Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan did a switcheroo as mother and daughter in the "Freaky Friday" remake, and even to a lesser degree, Rachel McAdams got trapped in Rob Schneider's bod in "The Hot Chick." Bateman and Reynolds nimbly embody their different personality types when the swap happens, and share an easy buddy camaraderie. It's fun to watch Bateman, usually playing the deadpan straight man, let loose and get dirty when the uncouth Mitch is inside him. He especially kills it when he tells his daughter that violence solves everything and nixes the real Dave's "verbal resolution" rule. Except for scenes early on before the swap, Reynolds mostly has to react. 

Lucas and Moore's puerile, desperately crude script is like it just discovered teenage rebellion and learned its first cuss word. It's pretty mean-spirited towards a pair of babies: one repeatedly bangs its head against the crib, another plays with a hatchet and kitchen knife while the other sticks its tongue in an outlet socket, and both get breast milk poured on their heads. There's even a base whiff of misogyny: an older soft-core actress gets "thumbed," a topless woman shows off her pregnant stomach where the baby's kicks are visible, and poor Mrs. Judd Apatow gets to have a noisy bowel movement after eating Thai food. Mann manages to give a moving performance as a dissatisfied wife, even if it feels uncomfortably wedged in with the excretory joke. Olivia Wilde—as Sabrina, the law associate Dave gets a chance with once inside Mitch's body—gets treated as more than an eye-candy flavor of the month, giving the role personality and brains. Nearly forgotten is Alan Arkin, who's sinfully given a nothing part as Mitch's remarrying dad. 

Bateman and Reynolds get away with making coarse material funnier than it should be. Funny is funny, and there certainly are laughs here and there, but "The Change-Up" didn't have to prove its "aren't we crude?" mandate so much. Fecal matter belongs in the toilet, not on the comedy screen.

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