By Lucia Hodgson
The ‘family’ genre is often one of nonconformity, a colourful mix where pretty much anything goes so long as it’s safe viewing for wee-uns. Silly concepts also tend to work in kid’s flicks – silly concepts like body swapping. Ticket sales for tween faves 17 Again and Freaky Friday are testament to the fact that a dubious product can work in the correct market. So, with a family un-friendly R-rated certificate and no Zac Efron in sight, David Dobkin’s unimaginatively titled The Change-Up has already come a cropper. Kids are certainly not welcome to this crude shell-switching scenario, which sees Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds playing for juvenile laughs in a film for the John Hughes generation who are yet to grow up.
As is becoming the norm for pro-forma Hollywood comedy, the conflict in the lives of buddies Mitch and Dave aren’t much to quibble over; Dave is tiresome of his twin’s dawn wake up call and his wife’s ‘dialogue’ nights, whilst bachelor Mitch’s hedonistic lifestyle is directionless. Looking to each other as a point of comparison, they realize what is missing from their own lives and drunkenly express the desire to swap. But be careful what you wish for. The next morning Dave and Mitch wake up in one another’s shoes, and in conveniently aligned situations enabling maximum comedic effect, they begin a chaotic journey to rectify the situation.
Underneath the puerile antics of The Change-Up, simmers a more interesting meta-narrative which warns of the problems facing modern-day marriage and commitment. Worryingly, and despite having three children, Dave finds pregnant booty-call Tatiana a disgrace, and Mitch balks at the idea of sex with a woman who has recently relieved her bowels. Their desire to act like any normal man approaching middle-age, holding down a job and family, even acting monogamously, is decimated over in a manner just as bawdy as the projectile excrement at the start of the film. Leslie Mann’s painted-smile wife somehow comes off worse for loving Dave than he does for rejecting her and finding solace in sexy secretary Sabrina (Olivia Wilde). When Sabrina spiritedly strips off later in the film, Dave (in Mitch) lets the slime flow, telling her ‘I haven’t heard a word you said since you took your pants off.’
Reynolds and Bateman do their best with an uninspired story, assuming the other’s character with impressive knack. The script is so unsure of itself that not just one moment of self-realization will do, but several, as the film drags itself half-heartedly to the finish line. The magic conjured by The Change-Up is as uninspired and indeed confusing as the magic fountain it was conceived in. The film can be added to the growing list of paranoid parades of bromance, where plumping for poo and masturbation gags defends against the realities of growing up.