Hollywood’s body-swap comedies have explored the wacky shenanigans involved in having to live someone else’s life, but they have largely ignored a major part of it: the sex part. If you’re inhabiting someone else’s body, even going to the bathroom or taking a shower would be an eye-opening experience, never mind carrying on the sex life of the person whose body you now possess.
Now, at long last, “The Change-Up” gives the body-swap comedy the filthy interpretation it’s always deserved. And I do mean filthy. It was directed by David Dobkin, of “Wedding Crashers,” and written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, of “The Hangover,” and it seems bent on out-dirtying both of those movies. Being genuinely funny is a secondary concern, though it accomplishes that, too, here and there.
“The Change-Up” stars the immensely likable Jason Bateman as straitlaced family man Dave, and the immensely likable Ryan Reynolds as weed-smoking womanizer Mitch. Dave is a lawyer bucking for a promotion; Mitch is an unemployed actor. Dave has a wife, Jamie (Leslie Mann), and three little kids; Mitch has no obligations of any kind. (“The adults are about to fire up a workday,” Dave says disapprovingly when an already-stoned Mitch calls him one morning at 9.)
They wake up one morning to find they have switched bodies. Never mind how; it doesn’t matter. Mitch-as-Dave has to go to an important business meeting and not screw up the Big Account, while Dave-as-Mitch has to be an actor in a shady low-budget film shoot. Mitch-as-Dave also has to deal with Dave’s children and sleep with Dave’s smokin’ hot wife, while Dave-as-Mitch must contend with Mitch’s odd roster of girlfriends.
Bateman and Reynolds do an impressive job of establishing their opposite characters in the film’s opening scenes, and then do an even better job of impersonating one another’s mannerisms and delivery after they’re switched. There is glee in both actors’ performances, but especially in Bateman’s, as he gets to cut loose when inhabited by the reckless spirit of Mitch.
Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t trust the actors’ facility with comedy and goes overboard to ratchet up the wackiness quotient. When Mitch is in Dave’s body and must pretend to be a grown-up and professional lawyer, he instead behaves like a moron, swearing relentlessly in board meetings and pilfering free snacks from the break room. This is all wrong. Mitch surely knows how mature adults act, even if he isn’t one himself. He’s a slacker, not an idiot. (He’s also an actor, yet he makes no effort to play the role of Dave.)
I found myself forgiving a lot of that kind of sloppiness because of my built-in fondness for Bateman and Reynolds. That includes a particularly nasty baby-poop incident — in the first 10 minutes of the film, no less! — that probably would have turned me off completely if it were, say, Martin Lawrence and Adam Sandler. The film also benefits from the Leslie Mann effect (see also: “Knocked Up”), wherein the tartly funny actress fills her beleaguered housewife character with honesty and emotion, in spite of the nonsense that surrounds her.
The perverse humor and outrageous scenarios made me laugh often enough to recommend the movie, but I’m disappointed that it didn’t explore the potential in an R-rated body-swap comedy more carefully. Much of what happens here is just leftover “let’s see how raunchy we can be” material from the filmmakers’ other movies. But Reynolds and Bateman give such gonzo, fully-committed performances that it’s hard not to find mirth in their characters’ dumb exploits.
B- (1 hr., 52 min.; )