The Change-Up

the change up

I know it’s fashionable to rag on Ryan Reynolds’s career (here and here), which, like an M.C. Escher drawing, you can never be sure if it’s going up or down when in reality it might be going nowhere, but haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. And while things might not be going the way of Bradley Cooper for him, I wouldn’t discount critical and commercial success in the future. For all his sarcasm and cheekiness, Reynolds has a nice guy quality that makes his characters redeemable and relatable even when they are being kind of a jerk, as is the case in The Change-Up.

In the movie, he plays Mitch, a layabout stoner who has a fractious relationship with his dad (Alan Arkin) but who doesn’t mind living off him while he struggles to make it big as an actor. Reynolds has perfected the clueless, carefree lothario shtick but spends a limited time in that role. Since it’s a body switch film, he trades in the familiar persona for that of an uptight family man who longs for a little excitement in his life and, in doing so, shows off his ability to reign in the cheek and play it straight.

If that sounds like the template for a Jason Bateman character, it’s because it is. Bateman begins the film as Dave, a corporate lawyer married to his high school sweetheart, Jamie (Leslie Mann). Like Reynolds, he sheds his typical image for something a more unbuttoned, and reveals a talent for physical comedy in the process. Bateman, probably more than his costar, makes the best use of trading places gimmick, and the incongruity of seeing the normally staid actor regressing in his home and professional life – sliding Dave’s baby twins onto the couch since he can’t be bothered or showing up to an important meeting in Sunday boating attire – produces a good deal of comedy.

Most of the humor pushes the bottom limit though as this otherwise typical body switch film tries to get ahead by appealing to its audience’s baser instincts. It separates itself from the pack with an R rating, which it earns by literally flinging shit and digging (into) holes. Unbeknownst to Dave, his best friend has been trying to break into the industry by appearing in “lornos,” or light pornos. He finds out only after they’ve switched places and he is on set, leaving him with no other option except to, well, go on with the show.

The filmmakers do their best to nurture a boys-will-be-boys ethos, and even if the movie doesn’t completely embrace Judd Apatow’s man-child comedy, it skirts pretty close. It relies too much on crassness and scatological humor for its own sake when it could have capitalized on the characters’ more revealing, in other ways, not-quite-midlife crises. Mitch’s stony attitude towards his father did more to inform the character than his juvenile passes at Jamie, but Arkin doesn’t get enough scenes to make an impact. Dave, or some iteration of him, however, has multiple encounters with his assistant (Olivia Wilde). She represents all the lusty twentysomething fantasies that he never fulfilled, but it’s never really clear where all his dissatisfaction comes from. In the end, this genre movie never raises its game to any new level and remains a mundane if crude film about two people who, unsatisfied with their lives, come to realize that things aren’t so bad after all.

Released: 2011
Prod: David Dobkin, Neal H. Moritz
Dir: David Dobkin
Writer: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jason Bateman, Leslie Mann, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, Mircea Monroe, Gregory Itzin
Time: 112 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2015