If I was peeing into a fountain at the same time as an 8-year-old boy and through some inexplicable reason we swapped bodies, the new fake “me” might tell you that a film that starts with a baby projectile-pooping into the mouth of its father is a genius and inspired comedy that not only has a unique premise but also nails its execution.
However, I am particularly excellent at holding my bladder (so that I might release it in the appropriate place) and somewhere out there a sad, 8-year-old boy is getting scolded for peeing on public property. So I can, with a clear mind, report that The Change-Up is not that genius, inspired comedy and that its uninspired premise fails in execution in almost every way.
You’ve heard it all before, two best friends, Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) and Dave (Jason Bateman), who couldn’t be more different in how they chose to live their lives, have approached a crossroads. Mitch is single, barely-employed, and hasn’t matured or developed since his childhood. Dave has three children and works to the point of forgetting his wife and family. After a night of drinking, whilst peeing on a public fountain, the two confess to wanting each other’s lives. When they awake, the two find themselves in each other’s bodies and must assume the lives of the other, to disastrous results.
Sure, the body-switching premise is lazy and tiresome at best, but there is still comedy to be mined from the idea. We’ve seen Freaky Friday in more iterations than I care to list, but we’ve never seen a film that truly addresses the implications a switch like this might have on two adults. There are an endless number of adult moral implications that might make for hilarious moments of comedy and The Change-Up at times tries its hat at addressing these questions, particularly in a funny moment involving personal grooming.
The rest of the time the film pushes the envelope of gross-out humor further than is comfortable with some scenes that aren’t just tasteless, they are offensive and horrifying. Are we meant to find baby penises, nonstop exploitative nudity, and a constant barrage of curses funny or enjoyable? I didn’t.
Worst of all, none of it is believable for one second. A majority of the humor in the film derives from pregnancy or baby humor. By the end of the film I wonder whether director, David Dobkin, has ever met a pregnant woman or baby before.
For example, in one scene Dave, now inhabited by Mitch’s mind, is meant to take his twin babies to the kitchen to be fed. During the scene the babies wield butcher’s knives and operate kitchen machinery. In fact, one of the babies, around 10-months old, is able to hurtle a butcher knife at Dave’s head. The baby throws it so fast, in-fact, that it sticks into the wall like a ninja star.
Let me reiterate.
A baby. Hurls a butcher’s knife. At a full-grown man’s head.
Take a moment and think about those three barely-formed sentences for a minute. If it has taken you more than a minute to realize that those sentences might be the single dumbest thing you’ve ever read, I want you to do me a favor. I want you to go to the nearest hospital and get a vasectomy/hysterectomy so that you might never find out why a baby throwing a butcher’s knife is impossible.
When The Change-Up isn’t indulging itself with some of the most crude and vile humor I’ve ever seen on-screen (I won’t even begin to list some of it here), Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds can be charming. It is fun to see them playing outside of their typical roles in a way that is almost a commentary on how they are usually typecast.
What undermines this delightful dialogue is the idea that they are intended to have been friends since the 3rd grade. I’m trying to imagine a universe where the characters are the same age, or would ever have been friends. In reality Bateman is 42 and Reynolds is 34. So unless, Bateman’s Dave was held back in school for 8 years, something that seems unlikely for his character, I have no idea how these two were ever in the 3rd grade together.
The biggest question in the film comes from how these two people were ever friends. I can’t think of two characters more inclined to hate each other than Mitch and Dave. Both characters are more than just ankle-deep in their particular dysfunctional lifestyles, which couldn’t be more different if they tried. What makes their friendship even more implausible is how Mitch reacts around Dave. It is clear that he doesn’t respect Dave’s life, insulting his kids and coming-on to his wife in Dave’s presence.
What keeps the plot going is the dangers that Dave faces with Mitch occupying his body, as his company tries to negotiate a merger with a large Japanese company that will allow them to stay in business. Mitch’s incompetence and lack of respect for Dave comes into full force at work. It is hard to believe, no matter how unintelligent a person is, that anyone would act how Mitch does in this situation, truly throwing his best friend under the bus.
While this can be dramatic at times, there is no sense of drama coming from Dave occupying Mitch’s body. The way it is written, Mitch really has nothing to lose and so Dave’s actions in his body really lead to nothing, rendering all scenes with him flat and uneventful.
With the stakes rising at Dave’s job, the two decide they must switch back and try to find the fountain, now moved from its original spot, so that they might pee on it and change back.
Side Note: How much would it suck to be a god capable of switching the minds of two people and yet be forever trapped in a fountain that can only activate its powers if peed on?
The Change-Up tries to eventually wrap up all of its disparate storylines with a heartfelt ending about what is important in life and how people can summon the power to change. It is nothing if not predictable but it also manages to make it as boring as possible. At one point Dave’s wife, Leslie Mann (who has a surprising topless scene), literally pours out minutes of tearful exposition about her relationship to her husband. As an audience, we know every word she is saying and are forced to be bludgeoned over the head with her words (plus cheesy music that grows louder by the second).
It’s not surprising to me how much I disliked The Change-Up. I found the writers’, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, last film The Hangover equally humorless and intellectually insulting. With The Change-Up they have plunged even further into the worst gross-out humor and tired old gags. The writing feels as if it was written by that one annoying friend we all have. You know the one. He’s the one who tells a funny joke only to ruin it by embellishing it beyond the point that it was initially funny.
So while I was unable and unwilling to switch my mind with that of an 8-year-old for this review; if I could, I would go back in time to before my screening of The Change-Up and find the nearest magical fountain. Then I would just let loose with my most aromatic stream of piss that I could muster in the hopes that someone else would have to endure the experience of watching The Change-Up.
|1 / 4 Reels|