By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
The Change-Up is over the plate, but has too few moments of real screwball unpredictability. And it isn't even a baseball flick.
Mistitled or not, The Change-Up is a persona-swapping fantasy comedy -- set in Atlanta but with no real sense of place -- in which lifelong best buddies, living what seem like diametrically opposed lifestyles, accidentally switch bodies (sort of) and thus get to see how the other half lives.
Jason Bateman is Dave, a married father of three little ones and a sleep-deprived, buttoned-down lawyer working hard to close a deal that should get him the promotion to partner of his prestigious law firm that he has long sought.
Ryan Reynolds plays Mitch, his best friend, a bottom-swimming actor and hedonistic, irresponsible womanizer whose development has not only been arrested but given a seeming life sentence.
One drunken evening, while discussing how much each of them envies the grass-is-greener life that the other is living, they utter something simultaneously ("I wish I had your life") -- while publicly urinating (don't ask) -- and, following a momentous stroke of lightning, wake up the next day having switched personalities or souls or essences or psyches or somethings while retaining their respective bodies.
That is, they look like themselves but act and talk like each other.
So, until they can undo the damage and confusion, in ways not worth detailing here, they will have to live out each other's lives, both living out fantasies they have articulated and confronting situations they're not equipped to handle -- until they can return to normality having learned a valuable life lesson.
The supporting cast includes Leslie Mann, who is terrific both comedically and dramatically, nearly stealing the movie as Jamie, Dave's wife, as well as Olivia Wilde as Dave's attractive legal associate and the underemployed Alan Arkin as Mitch's estranged dad.
Director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers, Fred Claus, Shanghai Knights), working from an uneven, uninspired screenplay by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (who wrote The Hangover), handles the magic-realism element adroitly enough, by not making a big deal out of it and not even trying to anchor it in reality.
But we too often sense the push for the kind of boundary-pushing outrageousness that serves as an attention getter but that felt a lot more organic and raunchy-for-a-reason in, say, Wedding Crashers.
Dobkin's mandate, apparently, was to trot out an overly familiar conceit (think of Freaky Friday, Vice Versa, Like Father Like Son, Big, 17 Again, 13 Going on 30, All of Me, The Hot Chick, Switch, Prelude to a Kiss, just to name a few too many), but take it in an R-rated direction. And Dobkin has certainly done that, for better or worse, embracing the shock-value gods by employing adult language, scatological interactions, and prominent nudity with self-conscious zeal.
His inclusion of obvious CGI effects for some early, cheap, and awkward sight gags involving the kids undercuts any semblance of reality that the flimsy premise is capable of containing, and is the first instance among many of director Dobkin attempting to bridge a narrative gap that a more skilled and thoughtful script would have tended to.
In Bateman and Reynolds, Dobkin has two talented comedic actors who are perhaps not different enough in style to get full mileage out of the contrasting "impersonations" they're called on to offer. But at least they know how to get laughs and seem to be enjoying the chance to show other colors: when they switch characters, Bateman gets to display a down-and-dirty side while Reynolds demonstrates that he can dial down the smarmy self-confidence.
They're both better than the screenplay allows them to be.
But it's a woman, Mann (below right), who is the movie's best feature, somehow managing to transcend the synthetic material and give a pivotal supporting performance that's not only funny and moving but almost astonishing in its naturalness and authenticity.
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So we'll trade 2 stars out of 4 for the hit-or-miss switcheroo comedy, The Change-Up. It's a promising pitch with not much follow-through.
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