I expected so much more from director Dan Mazer’s The Exchange. Unfortunately, the man who wrote such hits as Borat and worked on Da Ali G Show sails on cruise control here. While he avoids “utter dreck” territory, he fails to imbue the comedy with a modicum of inspiration. The result is tonally-uneven and predictable, down to its lame stabs at exploring xenophobia. Nevertheless, a few moments manage to remind us of Mazer’s sense of humor while simultaneously accentuating the numerous glaring flaws.
Hobart, “Godforsaken Canada,” 1986. Tim (Ed Oxenbould) leads the typical life of a miserable outcast teenager. He sports an unflattering haircut and thick-rimmed glasses. He is bullied by everyone at school, except for his only friend, the janitor. Tim’s the kind of guy who takes his time to correct a scribbled “You’re moms mouth is fulla cocks!” note in the bathroom stall.
When he finds out about the France-Canada exchange program, he looks forward to meeting his peer, someone who “doesn’t think that French New Wave is a hairstyle.” His chirpy mom Sheila (Jennifer Irwin), and awkward dad Glenn (Paul Braunstein), support the endeavor. None of them, however, expect the hip-hop-loving, earring-sporting Stéphane (Avan Jogia) to show up. He smokes, wears see-through pants with rainbow-colored underwear, and humps Tim’s bean bag chair. Soon he seems to be doing the same to every girl in Tim’s school, his popularity reaching its peak when the entire upcoming Hobart parade is dedicated to him. “The person that was meant to be my salvation made me feel lonelier than ever,” Tim states sadly.
“…his popularity reaching its peak when the entire upcoming Hobart parade is dedicated to him.”
Add a love interest – the equally nerdy, thick-rimmed-eyeglasses-wearing Brenda (Jayli Wolf) – as well as a prejudiced, clueless gym teacher/ part-time law enforcement officer Rothbauer (Justin Hartley), and some racist students that do not want Stéphane to succeed (“Watch your feet, brown clown”), and the entire story boils down to pure formula. You’ll most likely see where it’s all going within the first ten minutes.
While some decent one-liners do work – “I don’t think that would happen in a courthouse,” Tim says while watching porn – it’s in the dialogue exchanges that The Exchange suffers the most. The script would’ve benefited from another few drafts. It begs to be sharper, more controversial and biting. Crucially, it never quite decides whether it’s an all-out ridiculous slapstick comedy or a warm-hearted slice-of-life tale, constantly tilting one way, then the other. The character of Rothbauer is a complete caricature, while others are more grounded. A suicide joke (literally) falls flat.
Oxenbould, who reminds one of a young Justin Long, fails to make his character likable or engaging in any special way. Avan Jogia, as Stéphane, fares better, giving it his all, even breakdancing at several points. But he’s simply squeezing every last drop out of an inherently one-dimensional character. There’s no real chemistry between the two leads, no spark that would make the final montage as poignant as it claims to be.
The Exchange is competently helmed, meaning that there are surely worse ways to spend an evening. But Mazer has done, and hopefully will do, better than this.
"…some decent one-liners do work..."