If “Freaky Friday” had an impudent, foul-mouthed little brother, it would be “The Change-Up,” an often needlessly crass, bromance-oriented spin on the body-swap comedy. While the reliable Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman wring some laughs from a creaky but durable setup, playing polar-opposite buddies who find themselves by stepping outside themselves, the script takes R-rated gross-out humor to such forced extremes that its later bid for sentimental sweetness feels disingenuous and unearned. Easily marketable cast and concept should help this Universal release shake some change out of moviegoers not yet exhausted by this summer of gratuitous vulgarity.
The generally bottom-feeding nature of the material here should come as little surprise to those who recognize the raunchy imprimatur of “Wedding Crashers” helmer David Dobkin and “The Hangover” scribes Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (though the writing duo’s more salient credit may be the supernatural-tinged 2009 comedy “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”). At various points, “The Change-Up” seems intent on setting a new record for F-bombs dropped per minute, and it hits a nadir early on with the image of a principal character getting hit in the face with projectile poop while changing his kid’s diaper.
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The guy performing that thankless task is Dave (Bateman), a straight-laced family man struggling to raise three kids, make his wife Jamie (Leslie Mann) feel appreciated and desired, and seal a major deal at the firm where he works as a corporate attorney. By convenient contrast, Dave’s closest friend, Mitch (Reynolds), is a pot-smoking, sexually hyperactive layabout with no job and little relationship with his disappointed father (Alan Arkin).
After a night of booze-soaked commiseration, Dave and Mitch relieve themselves in a public (and magic) fountain, an act of minor desecration with major consequences. After the unpleasant shock of realizing they’ve switched bodies wears off, the mutual benefits of the arrangement come into focus: Dave will get to relax and have sex with one of Mitch’s many girlfriends, while Mitch will have to handle some responsibility for a change and have sex with Jamie (despite Dave’s protests). Since neither scenario would square with the film’s eventual endorsement of monogamous commitment, multiple instances of pre-coitus interruptus ensue.
Throughout “The Change-Up,” one senses the filmmakers revived this hoary chestnut of a tale so they could deliver the crudest version possible — a bawdy-swap comedy, if you will — more to satisfy presumed market demands than to maximize the story’s potential. Thus, along with the expected farcical moments of topsy-turvy romance and job-performance catastrophe, we get a monologue about genital electrocution, a bizarre fetish involving pregnant women, a scene of noisy gastrointestinal release, and a few whose-penis-is-it-anyway jokes that are admittedly pretty funny.
Far more repugnant is a scene that grotesquely exaggerates the perils of parenthood, using fake-looking CGI to place sharp instruments in the hands of not one but two toddlers. It’s awfully hard to swallow family values from a film whose idea of humor frequently borders on child abuse.
While superior entries in this subgenre have tackled the battle of the sexes (“All of Me”) or the generation gap (the various versions of “Freaky Friday”), “The Change-Up” is less-than-hilariously predicated on a clash between opposing lifestyles. In order for this particular dichotomy to work, the two leads would have to be convincing as buddies to begin with; as it is, Mitch comes across as the sort of overgrown frat boy Dave would have ditched eons ago on his road to social respectability.
The fact that Reynolds is seven years younger than Bateman, and looks it, only reinforces the sense that these two are somewhat mismatched, their amusing back-and-forth rapport notwithstanding. Bateman, usually cast as the straight man (as in the recent “Horrible Bosses”), has fun unleashing his id in a few indulgently coarse pep talks; by contrast, Mitch’s transformation lets Reynolds stick with his familiar smart-and-sensitive persona. But because the actors are not especially dissimilar comedic types to begin with, swapping identities doesn’t allow them the sort of virtuoso displays of physical comedy this sort of material typically affords.
On the distaff side, Mann whines and scolds in roughly the same unhappy-wife role she played in “Knocked Up” and “Funny People,” though she bares more of her body here, if not her comedic gifts, than she did in either of those pics directed by her husband, Judd Apatow. Giving the material an unexpected jolt is the exquisitely beautiful Olivia Wilde (also in the current “Cowboys & Aliens”), who brings a tart, breathily self-assured presence to an underwritten role as Dave’s legal assistant.
Pacing is brisk, and tech credits are fine, with nary a single pop-scored character-development montage out of place.