The Change-Up will not be the summer’s biggest comedy but it may well be its biggest surprise. Before we even get to the movie, let’s take the case of the trailer and TV ads. Could they possibly be less promising? But here’s the funny part: In an age when studios are notorious for cramming a film’s best stuff into its promos, Universal actually saved the laughs for the movie.
And—guess what—there are a lot of them. This is a more notable achievement than may be evident immediately for we are dealing with that most tired and braindead of genres: the body swap comedy. These things wore out their welcome way back in the 80s when a new one seemed to arrive every other weekend along with the latest Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger testosterone-fest.
So it was both curious and professionally courageous on the part of Hangover scribes Jon Lucas and Scott Moore and Wedding Crashers director David Dobkin to take on the challenge of breathing new life into the form. A challenge they meet in large part through a generous infusion of 21st century raunch.
Jason Bateman is Dave, a father and workaholic lawyer who’s up for partner. Ryan Reynolds is his lifelong best bud Mitch, a dedicated slacker and ladies man. The picture opens with a typical night in Dave’s life. His twin toddlers are wailing, he forces himself awake to change them and when he bends to reach for a fresh diaper, the audience beholds something it has never beheld on screen before-a close up of a baby’s butt in the process of firing projectile poo at his face. The stage is hereby set for two hours of variously unexpected and disturbing visuals.
It’s fairly obvious why Dave might envy Mitch’s carefree, sex-filled lifestyle so the film’s creators required a plausible reason why the weed-puffing playboy might reciprocate. This takes the form of Dave’s wife, Jamie. She’s played by the always appealing Leslie Mann as a neglected beauty on whom Reynolds’ character has long nursed a secret crush.
We all know how these deals work. Via one mystical gimmick or another, two people find themselves occupying each other’s body. The filmmakers tossed a dart and came up with the guys confessing their fantasy to trade lives while peeing in a public fountain. Boom, the lights go black across the city of Atlanta and the friends wake up the next morning with their wish granted.
Each actor does a credible, even commendable, job of channeling the other’s patented screen persona. It’s big time fun to watch Bateman stampede through the executive suites of his firm like a freshman at a frat party (“Are these donuts free?”) and attempt to bullshit his way through life and death board meetings. Likewise, Reynolds is convincing in several scenes that provide his inner Bateman the opportunity to jeopardize his stud status. He’s an aspiring actor working his way up the porn ladder. There’s a scene depicting a day on the job which involves a senior citizen and is likely to be seared into your brain for life.
I should say no more than that the movie is wall-to-wall with such moments. Something as freaky as it is funny seems to wait around every narrative corner and there’s great pleasure in just sitting back and letting the picture serve up its crinkles and shocks. Knife-throwing babies, anyone?
Don’t get me wrong: We’re not reinventing the wheel here. But the fact is the movies with the most hype this summer have proven the most disappointing. Unexpectedly deft writing, direction and performances combine to make this film way more fun than anyone had reason to expect and that, if you ask me, is a nice change.