The makers of The Change-Up know that you've seen this movie before. Two people spend a few days in each other's shoes, wacky situations ensue, lessons are learned, rinse, repeat. Body-swapping comedies are the punctured wheel that Hollywood insists on trying to reinvent every few years, and director David Dobkin, with writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, want you to know right out of the gate that this one's going to be different.
Their premise alone makes one change to formula, doing away with the usual generational gap between the swappers and going with two men of the same age, Dave and Mitch (Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds, respectively). But how to really set your movie apart in the first five minutes? Digitally animated infant buttocks and projectile excrement should do the trick.
With that visual, The Change-Up firmly establishes itself as Freaky Friday for the Judd Apatow set, and Dobkin pushes hard against the limitations — few though they may be -- of the R-rating. As a result, there are f-bombs shoehorned into as many lines as possible (no matter how awkward the context), additional excrement jokes beyond that gag-worthy opening scene, and pages of homoerotic/phobic jokes relating to the fact that two male leads have not only switched bodies, but are also now in possession of each other's genitals. Add to that a surprising amount of nudity for a studio comedy, almost all of it female, and this is essentially a movie made expressly for sweaty-palmed teenage males.
But don't be distracted by the dirty jokes. This is still body-swapping comedy by the numbers, because despite Dave and Mitch's negligible age difference, their maturity levels are easily generations apart. Dave is an ambitious career and family man, a corporate lawyer about to make partner. His home life is as hectic as the office — he and his wife Jamie (Leslie Mann) barely see one another as they juggle careers, a young daughter and infant twins. Mitch is ostensibly an actor, but is mostly a pot-smoker, slacker and womanizer. His development was arrested at 15, while Dave's has been fast-forwarded to around 55.
The first scenes after the switch -- precipitated by each drunkenly wishing for the other's life while urinating in a fountain -- rely mostly on comedy of mortification. Dobkin tries to see just how far down into your seat you can retreat as Mitch catastrophically attempts to pretend to be a lawyer and Dave shows up on the set of the soft-core porn movie in which Mitch is set to star. But the script values shock over wit so completely that every scene feels too eager for laughs, even with comic actors as likable as Bateman and Reynolds doing the shocking.
The movie does improve, if only slightly, once it settles down and finds its heart. Dave's marriage really is crumbling, and Mitch is watching life pass him by from his bed; both are in need of a wake-up call. But in trying to atone for its raunch, The Change-Up overcompensates, spending much of the final act lurching from smutty to schmaltzy, as sight gags about freckled genitals exist alongside tearful monologues with cloying piano cues.
It's difficult to find the unexpected in such an established template, and it's no mistake that the best films of this genre -- Big, Being John Malkovich —are the ones that stray from the longstanding blueprints. The Change-Up's spin on the material transplants the same old house on a crumbled foundation, trying to disguise its creaky familiarity with the gaudiest coat of paint possible. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.