With Jason Bateman, Ryan Reynolds, Leslie Mann, Alan Arkin; Running Time: 112 minutes; Rated R (for nudity, strong sexual content and language, and drug use); Written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore; Directed by David Dobkin.
If you’re averse to that Hollywood standby, the body swap movie – you know, the likes of “Freaky Friday,” “13 Going On 30” and (my secret favorite) “Face/Off” – there’s really no need to see THE CHANGE-UP, in which two longtime pals, each with a different lifestyle, do a switcheroo after drunkenly peeing in a magic fountain and simultaneously uttering, “I wish I had your life.” But if you’re willing to try the formula just one more time, this one’s got a few pretty good twists and wrinkles.
The film presents two kinds of bliss: married life and single life. Dave (Jason Bateman) is happy to have his wonderful wife (Leslie Mann) sleeping next to him each night, and is fine with the practice of taking turns getting up at 3 a.m. when their twin infants start crying over soiled diapers. (Warning: This is a movie filled with poop jokes, and they don’t all center around just those babies.)
Dave’s best pal Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) is thrilled with the singles scene: free to drink and do drugs and bring home someone new each night. While Dave is an overachieving, very successful corporate lawyer, Mitch is, as his dad (Alan Arkin) describes him, a quitter. He’s a high school dropout who’s eking by as an actor in the kind of films you’re not going to see at the mall multiplex.
We get some of this character establishment right away, but not nearly enough for the big switch – yup, they get each other’s lives – to mean much, as it happens at the 15-minute point. Yet each actor does a yeoman’s job of playing the other’s character. Bateman turns the once extremely professional Dave into someone who’s suddenly become not just a fish-out-of-water, but a fish who realizes that there’s no water to be found. Reynolds turns Mitch from cocky ladies man to nervous Nelly – not a good position to be in when a hack director on a shoddy movie set orders him to “perform.”
This is a film that’s loaded with good gags. Even poet Robert Frost takes one on the chin. But in between those, and an abundance of casual cursing and nudity, the script manages to work in a dose of humanity, a side of warmth that doesn’t get in the way of its freewheeling humor.
Details about the two guys eventually come out that make the early switch more palatable. There are a few well-done examples of someone talking to Dave or Mitch, without realizing who they really are, and revealing some personal information about them that they never knew. Both Bateman and Reynolds do some terrific reacting in these quiet scenes, which stand out among all of the comic playing it to-the-hilt they’d done up to that point.
The build-up to the film’s inevitable conclusion stretches too far, and there’s a dip into the cliché pool when Dave and Mitch start learning lessons and changing for the better. But at the very least, Ryan Reynolds can now be forgiven for ever getting involved with “Green Lantern.”•••
Ed Symkus has been reviewing and writing about films since 1975. His favorite one is “And Now My Love.” The one he despises most is “Liquid Sky.” He lives in West Roxbury.