The Change-Up

(2011) ** 1/2 R
113 min. Universal Pictures. Director: David Dobkin. Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jason Bateman, Leslie Mann, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin.

/content/films/4140/1.jpgBody-switching comedy The Change-Up announces its laziness and puerile intentions early, not least in the sequence in which the two leading men inexplicably switch bodies by peeing in a magic fountain (an implicit callback to Ghostbusters' "Don't cross the streams"?). But some time later, the movie has its own switcheroo, taking the implications of its nutty premise (semi-)seriously.

Fuddy-duddy family man Dave Lockwood (Jason Bateman) and irresponsible bachelor Mitch Planko (Ryan Reynolds) are walking archetypes. For these lifelong friends, the grass has never seemed greener on the other side of the fence. Mitch looks at Dave's wife Jamie (Leslie Bibb) and sees the committed love and support of a good (and, yes, attractive) woman, while Dave rues having missed the boat on years of promiscuity. Cue the supernatural urine-mingling: Dave and Mitch wake up in each other's bodies and are forced to live as each other for an indefinite period of time as they investigate a way to set things right.

The obvious places this immediately takes the "R"-rated movie are self-consciously built to shock. A casually racist high-school dropout, Mitch fares poorly at Dave's law firm, bungling a major merger with a stream of offensive chatter. At the same time, Dave must take the place of his aspiring-actor friend on the set of a "lorno" (I'll leave you to discover what that is, but it's worse than it sounds). In the bedroom, Dave discovers Mitch's previously scheduled booty call is not to his taste, while Mitch gets put off his chance of sex with Jamie by seeing her on the toilet (one childish attitude trumping the other). Getting a dose of each other's medicine quickly cures the friends of coveting each other's lives.

Matters start to get more interesting once the two begin to find their groove, more emphatically coach each other on how to succeed within a given lifestyle, and wonder whether making the change permanent might be a good idea. As once-irresponsible Mitch begins to see the rewards of family life and a job well done, once-workaholic Dave gets his opportunity to pursue a desirable taboo by dating a sexy co-worker (Olivia Wilde) and to enjoy free time (even an uninterrupted bowel movement is a change of pace).

The Change-Up risks depth by considering the consequences of an out-of-body experience, beginning with facing hard truths about themselves. Mitch's dad (the always-welcome Alan Arkin) accidentally reveals to his son that he sees him as a quitter, while Jamie inadvertently confesses her marriage is deeply dysfunctional. In addition to the perspective of a three-dimensional look in the mirror, the friends cannot resist commenting on each other's bodies (and wielding transgressive power over them). Perhaps most disillusioning is learning how they have secretly perceived each other, in ways that cut deeper than skin. The Change-Up is a sort of raunchy It's a Wonderful Life, though the plentiful nudity and babbling brooks of profanity tip the scale from sensitivity to outrageousness.

It's always fun to see good actors ape each other (think Face/Off) and a particular joy to see Bateman get to cut loose. Director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers) still comes off as a bit of a Neanderthal when it comes to women (Leslie Bibb somehow keeps her dignity as she gets put through the emotional wringer) and race (this is an oddly lily-white Atlanta), but his movie has some potent moments (a climactic one letting us see the true selves within the bodies during a moment of truth) and some funny ones (mostly involving bad parenting). Ultimately, this Change-Up makes it into the strike zone.

[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]

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