Truth About Change-Up

A compassionate assessment of David Dobkin‘s The Change-Up (Universal, 8.5) would be to call it a schizophrenic experience — a film with a split personality. It’s awful at first — “odiously vulgar” and “oppressively unfunny” are fair descriptions of the first 45 or 50 minutes. But then it improves when the characters suddenly “get real” and settle into intimacy and character and reality-facing issues, and the film stops playing to the cretins out there who squeal with laughter at poop, piss and dick jokes.

Ryan Reynolds, Jason Bateman in .

The first section, seemingly written and directed by a depraved, brain-dead, subhuman 13 year-old, delivers the basic story or set-up. A stressed-out, married-with-kids attorney (Jason Bateman) magically swaps lives and bodies with his immature pseudo-actor buddy (Ryan Reynolds) after they urinate into a kind-of magic fountain and say “I wish I had your life” (or words to that effect) at the exact same instant.

The second section, which is much more tolerable and even affecting here and there, is about these guys gradually realizing who they really are and what their lives truly amount by being able to stand outside themselves and assess from an outside perspective.

Bateman and Reynolds and costars Leslie Mann, Olivia Wilde and Alan Arkin handle their roles with professional aplomb and, as much as possible, a measure of dignity. Bateman and Reynolds do their level-best to make the sickeningly stupid parts play as well as possible, and the others “do the job” as best they can. Wilde is especially good as a sexy office colleague of Bateman’s attorney who develops an emotional-sexual interest when Reynolds’ personality takes over. She hits some genuinely honest notes.

But the depraved, brain-dead, subhuman 13-year-old section so thoroughly poisons the well that even the better second half of The Change-Up can’t quite balance things out. It’s a shame because Dobkin and his colleagues could have have made a reasonably decent comedy about values and choices and maturity and all that. But the animal sensibility (which the notoriously low-rent producer Neal Moritz probably had something to do with) wins out.

Complaint #1: What kind of moron pees into a public fountain? Even pot-bellied 20something apes who wear backwards baseball hats and oversized T-shirts and Kevin Smith shorts and sneakers with no socks are civilized enough to piss on the grass or in some bushes or against a tree. If I saw two guys pissing into a public fountain I’d run over and push them in and then run for it.

Complaint #2: Robo-babies who slam their heads against crib bars aren’t funny. Robo-babies who shoot a dark-brown milkshake substance out of their anuses and into Jason Bateman’s mouth aren’t funny, and the guys who thought this sequence up have something wrong with them…seriously. You’re sitting there and thinking, “Somebody actually got paid money to think this up and then shoot it for a mainstream big-studio feature?” Only a society in the last death throes of social degeneration and corruption would laugh at a scene as low as this, and believe me, hundreds were laughing their asses off at Monday night’s screening. I’m not talking about the vulgarity (although I am to some extent) — I’m talking about the primitive mentality that would find this kind of thing even faintly amusing.

Complaint #3: I wasn’t sure what was going on at first with the switch-out. It turns out that Bateman and Reynolds are not doing a Warren Beatty-in-Heaven Can Wait number but an internal personality switch. Beatty’s appearance stayed the same for us but once he occupied the body of billionaire Leo Farnsworth he physically appeared as Farnsworth to the other characters. But when Bateman “becomes” Reynolds and vice versa in The Change-Up their personalities are their own but their appearance is seen as one and the same by the audience and the characters. And that threw me at first because I had Heaven Can Wait in my head. Is this confusing?

Complaint #4: The basic Hollywood Elsewhere rule about driving scenes is that the driver has to act like a real driver in real life, which is to say he/she almost never takes his/her eyes off the road…ever. Bad movies allow drivers to frequently look at their passenger while driving, sometimes for three or four seconds at a time. But in one Change-Up scene Bateman takes things to a new level by mostly looking at the front-seat passenger and only glancing at the road or a second or two. I scream inside when I see this. You’re driving, asshole! You could kill someone! The bad guy, of course, is Dobkin, not Bateman. He could have straightened this out by reminding Bateman of the HE rule, but no.

  • Krazy Eyes

    Complaint #3 is especially valid. I couldn’t have named “Heaven Can Wait” as the problem but I was definitely confused by the trailer for Change-Up once the switch is made and who was supposed to be who.

    For some reason I imagined Bateman would become the Reynolds character (and vice versa) rather than the actors doing impersonations of each other.

  • Mr. F.

    “If I saw two guys pissing into a public fountain I’d run over and push them in and then run for it.”

    That does not at all surprise me… especially the part about you running away.

    The PR that Reynolds and Bateman have been doing over the last week is pretty unusual — in every single interview they’ve said “Yes, body switching is a ridiculous, cliche, tired concept… but you’ve never seen an R-rated version, so at least there’s that.” And I’m not exaggerating — their entire push has been to talk about how horrible the script is. Curious.

  • Zach

    “Robo-babies who shoot a dark-brown milkshake substance out of their anuses and into Jason Bateman’s mouth aren’t funny.”

    Not sure how this plays in the film, but I laughed out loud reading that, so it’s got to be at least a little funny, no?

    Completely agree with Complaint #4, though. You’d think this would be common sense for any actor or director (or script supervisor for that matter), but alas, common sense isn’t all that common.

  • berg

    don’t hurt him Lantern

  • Rashad

    DO Bateman and Reynolds do anywhere near a good job as Cage and Travolta did of nailing the other’s tics?

    Bad movies allow drivers to frequently look at their passenger while driving, sometimes for three or four seconds at a time.

    I have been in cars where people do this a lot. I understand it’s annoying in movies, but it does happen.

  • Edward

    I hope the wife doesn’t want to see this, because it looks awful.

    Wells to Edward: The two women I came with — a 17 year-old and an older female industry professional — both told me they thought women wouldn’t go for this film at all. A woman who sat next to me walked out at the halfway point (as did I for a three or four minutes) and we talked about it in the lobby. “I hate it,” she said.

  • MilkMan

    Bateman and Reynolds are both devoid of personality, or anything idiosyncratic re: a persona, so how can you tell who is imitating who? I mean, they’re both incredibly smarmy and smirky, but that’s about it. The joke of the film should’ve been two slices of white bread who switch personalities but no one, including the slices, even notice.

    BEST BODY SWITCH PERFORMANCE OF ALL-TIME: Charlie Schlatter in 18 Again.

  • Super Soul

    Let’s not overlook the terrific work by Benji as Chevy Chase.

  • jujuju

    “poop, piss and dick jokes”

    omfg!!!! that is sooooo funny! hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

  • Ghost072

    Great call on the Charlie Schlatter’s 18 Again performance. He had Burns down to a tee. I remember thinking that he would be a star after that, but he kind of fell off the planet instead.

  • Peterzee

    I read #2, then I re-read #2. Christ. Just because something’s funny doesn’t compel you to run with it. I had kids, and plenty of projectile squirting from same, and it can be amusing, but then you wipe it down and get on with being an adult. This sounds like one of those gross-out beats that show up because every other pinhead hack in town thinks they’re Apatow.

  • Terry McCarty

    Ghost072 wrote:

    Great call on the Charlie Schlatter’s 18 Again performance. He had Burns down to a tee. I remember thinking that he would be a star after that, but he kind of fell off the planet instead.

    Kind of remember him doing DIAGNOSIS MURDER.

    Around the same time as 18 AGAIN, though, he gave an excruciatingly whiny performance as Michael J. Fox’s brother in BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY.

  • Kakihara

    I was initially going to dismiss Change-Up’s box office potential, ‘cus of the shit jokes and the fact that Bateman’s not a draw, but with all the R-rated comedies making bank lately, it could actually give Apes a run for its money.

  • BobbyLupo

    “And that threw me at first because I had Heaven Can Wait in my head. Is this confusing?”

    Not if you’ve ever seen any body-switch movie besides ‘Heaven Can Wait’. The way this movie does it sounds like pretty much the standard for the genre.

  • eoguy

    I saw a screening of this last month without the end titles and thought it ranked near Battle: Los Angeles as my least favourite film of the year. You, and numerous other critics, have gone easy on the absolute stupidity of this film and complete lack of charm. I actually felt bad for all the major players in the movie because the material they had to work with was atrocious.

  • Jason S.

    The ads running on TV for this movie during the past week have featured about 90% Bateman and 10% Reynolds which is fine by me.

  • BobbyLupo

    The last movie the two of them were both in was the worst movie of its year (though Bateman’s one scene in it was great). Do they both have the same agent for film? And, if so, how is the guy still working, judging by the material he gets them?

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