REVIEW: The Change-Up Takes Oversexed Dude Comedy to Grim, Joyless New Depths
The Change-Up is a studio hybrid both so advanced and so primitive it defies parsing. Partly derived from the old Freaky Friday switcheroo comedy, partly bent on what feels like the pre-Enlightenment theme of men fretting over whether to live selfishly or with personal and social responsibility, it's post-Hays code, state-of-the-art obscenity mingled with the pre-feminist option of treating women as problems against which a man's life is defined. If Philip Roth and Ivan Reitman had a celluloid baby? Does it come from the future? Or did its everything-and-nothing-ness lower from the sky in a toxic, crowd-sourcing cloud? Have we burned our gender constructs so far into the ground they now have to be taught to us by soullessly motivated filmmakers beholden to brainless focus testing?
But Jason Bateman is adorable, isn't he? The face of froggy resignation with the dry wit of a straight-man who has suffered too many fools, he projects the ironical, distancing presence of mind we all like to think we possess in an increasingly silly world. A role like Arrested Development's Michael Bluth was a revelation for Bateman, and it was only a matter of time before he ascended to leading roles in big-screen comedies, a mixed blessing in such deeply unsophisticated times. He managed to make it through The Switch, the Jennifer Aniston immaculate conception comedy, with most of his capital intact, but his latest film could have leached the charm out of Cary Grant. Actually, the biggest surprise of The Change-Up, in which Bateman plays a husband and father pining for the decade he pissed away with accomplishments, is the extent to which his co-star, the odious Ryan Reynolds, can be made palatable simply by pretending to be Jason Bateman.
Bateman plays Dave Lockwood, a corporate lawyer with infant twins whose mind is so crammed with stress and sleep-training trivia that he's always forgetting his plans with both his wife, Jamie (Leslie Mann), and his best friend, Mitch (Reynolds). Mitch is the moldy flipside in this familiar equation: He's still listening to early Beasties, sleeps most days, and "I dated her mouth for a whole semester" is an example of both his conversation in company and the longest relationship he ever had. The two men attend a baseball game early on, and over beers discuss the precise shade of green they each envision on the other side. During some homo-social co-urination, they utter the same thing -- "I wish I had your life!" -- at the same time, and the jinx sticks. The next morning Dave wakes up in Mitch's body and considerably less auspicious bachelor loft, and Mitch is faced with the flesh-and-fluid corporeality that lies behind the cozy front of domesticity.
What we're trapped in is a flurry of low-grade humor where the men rarely feel at risk and the women, revealed as the gory other lurking underneath all that verdant green grass, are ritually humiliated. Mitch has to pretend to be a lawyer, and is fouling up a big Japanese deal when he's not treating Dave's comely associate (Olivia Wilde) to sub-pornographic come-ons. Meanwhile, Dave has to show up for Mitch the aspiring actor's gig, only to find out it's a "lorno" (light porno), and his co-star is a wretchedly distorted older woman with dirigible breasts. At home Mitch's Tuesday booty call turns out to be a massively pregnant blonde, and Leslie Mann and her bowel functions appall Mitch into celibacy. There's a long set piece featuring irreverent cruelty to babies, and Mann is asked to give the same speech she did to Paul Rudd in Knocked Up, wherein she cries through her complaints about Dave's inability to enjoy the perfectly nice life they have set up for themselves.
Director David Dobkin, who was praised for bringing gratuitous female nudity back with the R-rated comedy Wedding Crashers, outdoes himself in The Change-Up. After Dave is schooled, on Mitch's lorno shoot, about the strategic value of the TS and the BTS (basically: bare boob shots), they are liberally deployed in the film. But like much of The Change-Up, the effect is grim and joyless instead of lighthearted and loose. Even the pleasure in the novelty of the lead performances -- Reynolds goes much farther in "doing" Bateman, who is too bogged down in profanity to have much fun with the characterization -- is tainted by a script (by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore) so risibly broad it makes Wedding Crashers look like Bergman in the Hamptons.
Each man teaches the other the tao of their particular brand of masculinity, and "conflict" is derived from the mutual realization that they actually don't mind the switch as much they first feared. "I don't know how to do your grown-up crap," Mitch says, in awe of Dave's array of responsibilities. "Think of yourself as a brain-damaged mule lost in the desert," Dave says, by way of instruction. The Change-Up doesn't have much to say about what it means to be a man, but that seems like pretty solid advice for a certain kind of comedy director.