Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Change We Can't Believe In: THE CHANGE-UP


David “Wedding Crashers” Dobkin’s The Change-Up is a rancid pit filled with the putrid remains of offensive, outdated mindsets and regressive stereotypes. It’s a lame body switch comedy that is relentlessly cruel and crude and uses its time on screen to do little more than insult every character and denigrate every lifestyle choice they represent. The worst insult of the film is quite possibly leveled at the audience that is assumed to be ready to eat this up. What ugly, unfunny rot.

The idea of two people switching bodies and then being forced to comically live out the other’s life is a fun hook. It’s all too rarely produced a good film, but you can’t win them all. In any case, it’s usually a chance for two actors to have fun with the other’s style of line readings and typical body language. In 2003’s Freaky Friday remake, Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan put in genuinely great performances post-switch, believably becoming the other. Nicolas Cage and John Travolta pull off a similar feat in John Woo’s underrated 1997 action flick Face/Off. Despite the patchy track record – for every solid effort there’s a Vice Versa and Like Father, Like Son to set teeth to cringing – the subgenre seems perpetually ripe for a new positive example.

But I haven’t actually talked about The Change-Up much yet, have I? If you’ll excuse the above digression, I’ll get around to telling you that this truly abysmal movie stars Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds as the victims of a switcheroo. Bateman is an ambitious lawyer on the brink of being named a partner in his firm. He has a lovely wife and three young kids. Of course the film makes him miserable. He just can’t appreciate what he has because he’s too focused on the fact that his wife (poor Leslie Mann) wants to actually talk to him and his babies cry a lot. As for Reynolds, he’s a pothead, a failed actor, and a particularly egregious overgrown man-child who is also somehow a ladies’ man. He’s miserable too. As written, both men are so extremely off-putting that no amount of inherent charm from the actors can overcome it.

One night the two guys, who happen to be friends despite the fact that they don’t have anything in common, admit that they wish they had the other’s life. Yeah, right. Here’s a movie with a low opinion of all mankind, that says being married crushes a man’s freedom, ‘cause ladies, you know how they are. Then it turns around and says, left to their own devices, men would live like horrible slobs mindlessly pursuing their basest desires, ‘cause men, you know how they are. It’s such a pessimistic and creatively bankrupt way to approach human relationships. Of course the two guys will wreak havoc in the other’s lives before getting in touch with another part of themselves and switching back as marginally better people. But there’s no sense that either has anything to learn from the life of the other. The whole world of the film has a kind of mean-spirited retrograde opinion of gender roles, interpersonal dynamics, race, class, men, women, and children. It’s downright nasty.

Written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the same guys who recently brought you The Hangover Part II, this film can join it at the very bottom of this year’s, or any year’s, barrel of comedies. It’s a film that treats its cast, down to the lowliest extra, as nothing more than vulgar fleshy puppets to be trotted out on display for an audience to laugh at. There’s nothing to identify with in this feature, no spark of life or wit or imagination. It’s the kind of comedy that whips out the four-letter words with a dull repetitiveness, and yanks on its gross-out gags with a tiresome insistence that they’re shocking when they’re nothing more than desperate. The movie opens with a baby projectile defecating into Jason Bateman’s mouth and only goes downhill from there.

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