By Brian Lafferty
January 23, 2012 (San Diego) – The Change-Up is like murder…it’s indefensible. It is the worst “comedy” of 2011 and it would have been the worst movie if Zack Snyder didn’t make the equally misogynist, but more self-indulgent, Sucker Punch. It starts out with the worst scene of the film – Jason Bateman getting a mouthful of poop – and it only gets worse from there.
The Change-Up is a body-swap film (Hereafter, I will not refer to it as a “comedy;” it’s so unfunny that it doesn’t deserve to be called one, even in quotation marks) that goes for the lowest of the lowest common denominator. Bateman is an overworked lawyer with a wife and kids. You don’t get a cookie for correctly guessing he has a big case. Ryan Reynolds is a playboy porn actor. The two wish they had each other’s lives and wishing (while urinating in a fountain) makes it so. Complications, of course, ensue.
From the beginning the movie goes for outrageous gross-out humor. Besides the aforementioned projectile poop, the film includes a sequence in which Bateman (in Reynolds’ body) shoots a porn film with an old, ugly woman; Leslie Mann on the toilet crapping up a storm; and lots of bare breasts.
Hey, I don’t mind gross-out humor if it’s funny and the context is appropriate. The Change-Up is so concerned about being gross that it forgets how to be funny. The “humor” is more than just low and contemptible. It’s unnecessary. It’s as if the screenwriters experimented in trying to make everything as disgusting and as vulgar as possible without any regard for whether it’s necessary. It’s hard to laugh and enjoy a movie if it makes you literally gag.
Also unnecessary are the wall-to-wall use of four-letter words. There are times when profanity is appropriate and funny. Almost every sentence in Goodfellas has the f-word and its various iterations in it because they were character traits. South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut also had hundreds of four-letter words, but it’s South Park and most of the time the uses of profanity were funny.
The Change-Up doesn’t benefit from the constant profanity. Every use of it makes the dialogue sound a bit off. Joe Pesci and Trey Parker made it sound natural. In this movie it’s like the characters try to find a way to inject a dirty word in every sentence. The dialogue never flows and instead the overuse and superfluous use of profanity calls attention to itself.
The Change-Up is also misogynistic. The director and screenwriters should be ashamed of themselves. Women are viewed as objects for sexual pleasure and subjected to a number of indignities.
For a body swap comedy to work, the two characters must be unique and recognizable. Then, when the switch is made, the fun and humor arises from seeing the two characters act differently as well as other people’s reactions to these seemingly bizarre behaviors.
One of my favorite such scenes is from Vice Versa. Judge Reinhold plays a yuppie and Fred Savage plays his son. Savage (as Reinhold’s character) needs to use the phone at the school’s office. The receptionist says no. Savage pleads with her, “I have to speak to my secretary.” The look on the receptionist’s face is priceless. What middle school kid has a secretary?
Character development is not a high priority in this film. The two characters are uninteresting and bland. It’s not that the audience doesn’t have time to get to know them; the film wastes that time.
As bad as the film is, the DVD transfer is outstanding. When my eyes weren’t dodging away from the screen, they noticed the smooth, pristine transfer and the surprisingly well-lit and at times colorful cinematography. It isn’t beautiful, but at least somebody thought to spend some effort into making the image above average.
None of that matters. If you are really in the mood for a body-swap comedy, watch Big, which happens to be my favorite film of all-time. It’s timeless, it’s fun, and Tom Hanks shines as a twelve year-old boy in the body of a thirty year-old man.
A Universal Home Entertainment release. Director: David Dobkin. Screenplay: Jon Lucas & Scott Moore. Original Music: John Debney. Cinematography: Eric Edwards. Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jason Bateman, Leslie Mann, Olivia Wilde, and Alan Arkin. 112 minutes (original version). 118 minutes (unrated version).