Summer Movie Review: The Change-Up

“Let’s tempt fate and piss in this public fountain.”

Apparently, the only way for an individual to learn valuable lessons about his or her own life is in the event that they are cursed to spend a few days walking in the shoes of another. At least that’s what Hollywood seems to imply as they continually recycle this very plot device. From Big to Dream a Little Dream to The Family Man, this theme has been explored in various ways, none more overdone than the Freaky Friday format where two characters wish for each others life and then wake up in an apparent nightmare. The Change-Up is essentially an adaptation of Freaky Friday, replacing the mother-daughter relationship with two lifelong best friends.

Nevermind the concept, because with Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman cast to work off one another as the two leads, the laughs are guaranteed no matter the material. Reynolds, alone, has a history of taking projects that should not have been as funny as they were, such as Van WilderWaiting, and Just Friends, and making them worth watching. Bateman, on the other hand, has a resume that suggests he needs a solid project to look good. While he was great on Arrested Development and in such films as Horrible Bosses and the criminally underrated Extract, he is not in the same class as Reynolds, who can take the most simple and unfunny line and deliver it in a way that will leave an audience in hysterics.

I imagine this is the same looks they gave after watching the premiere.
The opening scene to the movie introduces the audience to Dave (Bateman), a corporate lawyer whose marriage is in danger because he often puts his career before his family. While establishing the difficulties of parenthood for a hard-working father of three may seem necessary in a movie about not appreciating what you have, there are hundreds of better ways to address it than by featuring an infant who rapidly slams his head against the bars of his cradle before defecating in his father’s mouth. These are cheap gags which aspire for the cheapest of laughs, all within the first five minutes of the movie.
“Were we taking Ecstasy when we signed on for this crapfest?”

The first third of the movie was sloppy, aside from Mitch’s introduction, which featured some of Reynolds’ trademark comedic timing in his portrayal as a slacker whose daily routine involves smoking pot, auditioning for roles in low-budget, trashy Skinemax fare, and maintaining a strict schedule with the women he’s sleeping with. It’s as inconsistent as the idea that two men who are polar opposites of each other have maintained a lifelong bond without tiring of the others’ antics.

One of the earliest lessons taught in elementary English (or “reading”) classes is that cause and effect are essential to story-telling, regardless of the genre. Yet, somewhere along the line that has become a forgotten rule and stories are being told sans effect. In comedy, it’s become egregious to see such lack of payoff and build. The Change-Up is a serious culprit of this, but many other films are guilty of this as well. It seems that writers and directors have come to believe that the audience attention spans have become so poor that they need to be smacked in the face with what is irresponsibly being labeled as “raunchy” material. Perhaps audiences have, in fact, become so dumb that they can no longer relate to actual storytelling and sincerely need “Ow, My Balls.”

Olivia Wilde and Ryan Reynolds in The Change-Up

Once Dave and Mitch’s individual traits were defined, the movie slowly began to find itself and the poorly-written story became less of an issue as each actor literally began channeling the other. Reynolds has played the douchey slacker many times in the past, and Bateman has a similar history playing the conservative professional. That each actor is forced to step out of what may be their comedic comfort zones is a fun twist. Further, the supporting cast is quite solid. Leslie Mann (Funny People) provides the emotional backbone as Dave’s wife Jamie, Sydney Rouviere provides a lot of heart and laughs as their daughter Cara, and Olivia Wilde (Cowboys & Aliens) is stellar (but underused) as Dave’s assistant Sabrina.

Overall, The Change-Up is an unbalanced movie. Its good moments are enjoyable, but when it’s bad, it is borderline atrocious. The end result is a mediocre disappointment, as Reynolds and Bateman work well off of one another, and each possess an individual sense of comedic timing that could carry a movie. These two could remake My Dinner With Andre, verbatim, and get laughs, so it’s unfortunate that those involved in creating this film, be it the writers, producers, or the director, thought that ridiculously gross-out, over-the-top “humor” would be necessary for a project starring two of this era’s brightest comedic actors.

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