Dir. David Dobkin. USA. 2011.

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The Change-Up is an easy-going, conventionally raunchy new American comedy that's mildly entertaining but leaves little impression. Maybe it's doomed from the start because it stars Ryan Reynolds, who is bland, and Jason Bateman, who is bland. Both likable guys -- Bateman is the more experienced and better actor of the two -- and different physical types, Bateman the Central Casting office worker and Reynolds a boyish hunk. But both so so bland. If you don't much care about either, how are you going to be amused by their changing places? Pissing into a fountain after a night of drinking, Ryan and Jason are two best friends with contrasting lifestyles. They declare that they'd like to trade lives. And voilà! They wake up in each other's homes and each other's bodies. This leads, as a synopsis says, to "a series of wildly complex difficulties." Yes, wildly complex, and also academic and numbingly uninteresting. You spend a lot of the time trying to remember which one is which. And that makes it hard to find time to laugh. This is not to say that Ryan and Jason aren't good at what they do, and their polished performances make this unsurprising movie watchable.

Sure, irresponsible bachelor Mitch (Reynolds) has no idea how to handle the job of high-powered lawyer Dave (Bateman), who has a wife and three kids, two of which are baby twins. Dave has a major corporate merger coming up. Mitch, now in Dave's body, likes the idea of sleeping with Dave's attractive (but deeply frustrated) wife (Leslie Mann) -- her sympathetic kvetching provides the dramatic high points of the movie, little arias of woe. But he risks serious consequences when he tries to change the babies' diapers, and he messes up the merger big time. Meanwhile the disciplined, work-obsessed Dave has no idea of how to be a fun-loving slacker and high powered womanizer. And when he finds Mitch's "acting" gigs are jobs posing in soft core porn movies, he's appalled and terrified. He's got the body, but not the know-how. Mitch in Dave's body hasn't got anything but unlimited opportunities to create havoc. One funny thing: Dave and Mitch don't know how to dress properly for their new selves. They have to get together and tell each other what to wear.

There is a certain amount of crude humor and foul language. The Change-Up is of the class of comedies that take changing a diaper as an opportunity for scatological slap-stick humor. Splat! Ha ha! In the lead-up to the fountain-pissing moment, and the lines that will most stay with you, Dave describes kids to Mitch as dangerous malefactors. "Having children," he says, "is, it's like living with little mini drug addicts. You know, they're laughing one minute, and then they're crying the next, and then they're trying to kill themselves in your bathroom for no good reason. They're very mean and selfish and they burn through your money and they break shit."

The Change-Up aims to strike cords in the audience. Parents of young children, it hopes, will feel a rush of recognition at this description, which no doubt has its kernel of sardonic truth. Kids are adorable and wonderful but also dangerous. This movie brazenly reaches out to young marrieds who long for their days of youth -- or who, like Dave, were so driven they never had a chance to sow their wild oats and just went straight from school to marriage and demanding job. And the writers also have a mild didactic purpose, as well as, like many comedy writers, putting on a show of outrageousness only to endorse conventional values. They're suggesting that the self-indulgent man-child might find more satisfaction accomplishing something. Most of all and at the end, they're telling us that while it's fun fantasizing about other lives, we're best off being ourselves. Mitch and Dave are panicked in their new lives at first, but after a week or so they start getting the hang of them. When Mitch, as Dave, manages to save the merger and bring the firm a big profit, he gets a great leap of self esteem. When Dave, as Mitch, is able to have a quick affair with his sexy office co-worker (Olivia Wilde), the effect is rejuvenating. But after that, they can't wait to go back and piss in the fountain, which they have to find because it's been conveniently moved, thus delaying the change-back long enough to deliver this movie.

Since Reynolds is 34 and Bateman is 42, this match-up of "lifelong friends" isn't altogether convincing, unless you think being equally flavorless makes an eight-year age difference vanish. But how are we supposed to feel about these characters, anyway? For the audience, being Dave or Mitch may be an indifferent prospect -- or a pleasing fantasy. There's a large segment of the audience who haven't a chance in hell of being either a successful corporate executive or a hunky slacker and may dream of one or the other, as Dave and Mitch themselves do. For me it's just as much a guilty pleasure to pretend to care about these guys as to be the kind of audience member would would. But with a smarter screenplay that would not be an issue. A witty, original comedy would take an ordinary guy, a boring guy, and make him funny and simpatico. But there's a gap between everyman and not-quite-any-man that The Change-Up fails to bridge. Unfortunately due to the glib but unimaginative writing of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore of The Hangover I and II, Davd and Mitch are just ciphers with a set of specs and accoutrements. Maybe Jon and Scott should stick to drunken boors: sexy bachelors and high-achiever husbands may be too much of a stretch for them. As for David Dobkin, he directed the funny Wedding Crashers and the original Clay Pigeons so he should have done better than this. But you can't hit a home run every time you step up to the plate.

Copyright © by
Chris Knipp

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