16 September 2011

Movie Review: The Change-Up


C

The Change-Up
2011, 112mins, 15
Director: David Dobkin
Writer (s): Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Cast includes: Jason Bateman, Ryan Reynolds, Leslie Mann, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin
UK Release Date: 16th September 2011

“The Change-Up” is an incredibly disposable comedy, elevated slightly thanks to two amusing central performances. Written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (the dynamic duo behind “The Hangover”), “The Change-Up” utilizes one of the stalest comedic formulas around, the body swap. Fortunately the picture has Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds heading things up, two different yet equally talented performers, both willing to give their all in an attempt to make the so-so script work. The concept is ultimately too creaky to totally overcome, but thanks to the sharp (albeit rarely likable) leads, the film is at least mildly tolerable in spots.

Dave (Jason Bateman) is a hardworking family man with job obligations that never cease. Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) is an out of work actor who lives like a child, shunning all of his responsibilities, including a relationship with his lonely father (Alan Arkin). Despite their differing lifestyles, Mitch and Dave happen to be longtime best friends. After a night of drinking, the pair blabber identical confessions whilst urinating in a fountain, each wishing they had the others life. The next morning Mitch wakes up beside Dave’s wife Jamie (Leslie Mann), whilst Dave finds himself shacked up in Mitch’s unkempt apartment. It transpires the fountain from the night before possessed mystical powers, granting their wishes by instigating a good old fashioned body swap. Desperate to reverse the predicament, the boys find the fountain missing, forcing them to live as each other until it can be located. For Mitch that means tackling Dave’s demanding job and enduring the more challenging elements of family life. Dave on the other hand is granted freedom for the first time in years, rediscovering his thirst for thrills through sexy co-worker Sabrina (Olivia Wilde).

The screenplay does a pretty poor job of making the characters engaging, one of them happens to be a loathsomely selfish womanizer, the other a stern and work obsessed goober. However through their inherent charms and combined comedic prowess Reynolds and Bateman render these fools digestible, both men bringing energy and neat improvisational touches to the picture. It’s also enjoyable to watch both actors play slightly against type, Bateman tearing into the manic and inconsiderate persona with relish for the first two thirds of the movie, whilst Reynolds looks to be having fun portraying a quieter and more socially adjusted character for a change. Any problems that exist within “The Change-Up” (and believe me there are quite a few) can’t be traced back to either of these talents. Bateman and Reynolds give the material a good old college try here, a respectable feat given that the script is clearly well below both their abilities.

The gags are moderately ticklish at best, and excruciatingly unfunny at their worst. Some of the interplay between Dave and Mitch makes for quality entertainment, but the larger comic set-pieces tend to underwhelm. There are moments that reek of desperation, namely a porno sequence, which basically plays out as one long, vulgar and slightly homophobic character reaction. Director David Dobkin isn’t really setting the strongest of tones when he opens the picture with a baby projectile pooping into Jason Bateman’s mouth, lazy humour like this killing the feature’s buzz pretty fast. “The Change-Up” is an astoundingly broad piece of work, more reliant on boobs, F-bombs and masturbation cracks than any truly decent comedy should be. There are laughs to be had, but they’re mostly to do with the ace Bateman/Reynolds pairing at the picture’s core, and less to do with Lucas and Moore’s uninspired written contribution.

David Dobkin has proven himself a problematic filmmaker in the past, after all his most recent offering prior to this was the foul festive stinker “Fred Claus”. His timing with punch lines is definitely more alert here (say what you will about the “Change-Up”, but its script is far superior to that of “Fred Claus”), yet his overall pacing of the product leaves much to be desired. At 112 minutes “The Change-Up” is profoundly overcooked, Dobkin drawing the picture out aggressively to try and lend some naturalism to the sentimental conclusion. Again Reynolds and Bateman have no trouble competing with the story’s syrupy finale (in fact they’re each quite affecting), but the movie as a whole has no justification to go grappling for a meaningful emotional core. It’s simply too vulgar and silly for the majority of its runtime, the paper thin characterization on show not helping much either. “The Change-Up” strives to be taken seriously during its climax, but sadly no audience is going to buy it as a tale of redemption or spiritual awakening.

Visually the film feels like a sitcom (ditto for Dobkin’s other directorial fumbles), although I suppose that’s not entirely inappropriate given the movie’s forgettable nature. “The Change-Up” provides a few chortles and promises further reasons to back Bateman and Reynolds in the future, but ultimately leaves virtually no discernible impression. A word should probably be spared for the film’s amiable supporting cast (Mann, Wilde and Arkin are all competent), but even they’re not enough to push the picture beyond its obvious limitations as a raunchy helping of DVD fodder. It’s not entirely unpleasant, but I can’t in good conscience recommend that you actively seek out “The Change-Up”.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

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