Can a film that relies on a tired premise and formulaic execution still deliver an enjoyable time at the theater – as well as turn a decent box office profit? That’s the challenge facing director David Dobkin’s (Wedding Crashers) latest film, The Change-Up, starring Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman.
For anyone unfamiliar The Change-Up, the comedy is an updated (and raunchier) take on the traditional Freaky Friday premise of a ‘grass is greener’ body-switch that forces two people to appreciate their own lives by experiencing the other side. In Freaky Friday, the body-hopping protagonists are mother and daughter; however, in The Change-Up, the switch occurs between hard-working father of three, Dave Lockwood (Jason Bateman) and lackadaisical ladies man Mitch Planko (Ryan Reynolds), via urination in a magic fountain. Over the course of the film, the two are forced to confront their own insecurities and faults, as well as juggle the day-to-day challenges of their borrowed life – all the while searching for a magic fountain to piss in in order to break the spell.
As mentioned, it’s an especially familiar formula – but, with Bateman and Reynolds playing against type, some genuinely entertaining hijinks ensue. It’s an interesting and tricky balance, but the two leading men manage to draw from their own familiar strengths and simultaneously inject enough of their respective co-star to play to the premise: a comedy set-piece involving babies, kitchen appliances, and an expletive-spewing Bateman is especially effective – as is a movie-shoot scene that features an uncharacteristically timid Reynolds. While plenty of jokes center around the various “fish out of water” encounters in the film, there is an unexpected but thoughtful pair of character arcs included to complement the laughs.
Even when Bateman and Reynolds don’t always succeed in capturing the nuances of the other man, The Change-Up manages to breath some intriguing depth and surprisingly emotional performances into what is one of the raunchier comedies of the year. For all the poop jokes (yes there’s more than one) and awkward sexual encounters, there’s a handful of moments that successfully depict the gravity of what is at stake for the disembodied protagonists.
Leslie Mann delivers a number of strong moments that, couched in between fart jokes, successfully convey the decomposition of the Lockwood’s marriage – which Planko (who is a habitual quitter) must hold together. Similarly, Olivia Wilde offers a charming performance as paralegal Sabrina McArdle, who works under Lockwood and serves as “forbidden fruit” throughout the film – forcing Lockwood to wrestle with his moral compass (while exploiting the anonymity of Planko’s body).
Given the familiar premise, the only real surprises in the film come as a result of the shock-value approach to humor. While a number of awkward character exchanges will warrant a chuckle here and there (because the performances are solid) – only when the film enthusiastically crosses the line, into Hangover-esque absurdity, will moviegoers really get a chance to laugh. Some of the over-the-top jokes are less successful than others – but most offer a cathartic release after laughing nervously at the parade of uncomfortable situations the characters find themselves in. That said, audience members who are turned-off by raunchy, and potentially offensive, humor will likely find little to like in The Change-Up.
As mentioned, despite the shock-value surprises in The Change-Up, ultimately the film is still hindered by its premise – since the film is just going through the same motions as the myriad of Freaky Friday clones that came before it (and will after). The progression from scene to scene is distractingly predictable – in addition to a plot that’s easy to trace from A to B to C. The Change-Up is also overly-long.
The protagonists waffle (at least) one too many times – meaning that the audience is actually forced to follow a predictable plot from A to B to C to D. Similarly, while the emotional climax of the film is surprisingly effective – the resulting aftermath is, unfortunately, pretty cliche – in an attempt to clean-up all the loose ends.
It’s easy to recommend The Change-Up for all the over-the-top laughs and a pair of solid leads that succeed in offering a raunchy twist on a familiar formula. However, there’s no doubt that same familiar formula holds the film back in a number of ways – resulting in an above average theater experience that’s far from original.
If you’re still on the fence about The Change-Up, check out the trailer below:
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick – and let us know what you thought of the film below.
The Change-Up is now playing in theaters.
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