There’s a certain kind of movie that feels at least partly conceived so cast and crew could get paid for hanging out in some gorgeous vacation spots. The happiest result for such enterprises is that the audience should feel as though it’s had a 90-minute holiday, in addition to acquiring some very good ideas for a longer one. That mission is more or less accomplished by “Changeland,” Seth Green’s first feature as writer-director. He and Breckin Meyer play longtime besties on what should be a pleasure trip to Thailand, only the pleasure is severely undercut by one party’s self-pity over relationship woes.
It’s a polished, pleasant film whose locations all look duly spectacular — if you hadn’t dreamt of a Thai getaway before, you certainly will after watching. The eye candy, amiable cast and other attractions are all enjoyable enough that you can forgive how perilously slight the material here is. Green’s writing has previously been primarily confined (as has frequent collaborator Meyer’s) to the surreal ADD animation sketch-comedy series “Robot Chicken.” While “Changeland” merits credit for breaking out of that antic comfort zone, it really doesn’t try very hard to provide even the mild narrative substance needed to ballast a lightweight entertainment like this.
Still, its assurance in other departments suggests Green is more than ready for further behind-the-camera feature assignments. Gravitas Ventures is launching “Changeland” on 15 U.S. theatrical screens as well as VOD this weekend.
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Sneaking out of his suburban U.S. home at dawn, Brandon (Green) boards an airplane in a state of stunned torpor. At a Dubai connection point he meets up with professional photographer BFF Dan (Meyer), who is ebullient at the prospect of several days’ partying in Thailand. It takes us a bit to figure out why his pal isn’t, and indeed why the two men are taking this trip: Brandon has just realized his wife is apparently having an affair. So rather than take her on the luxury vacation that was intended as an anniversary surprise, he’s disappeared sans explanation (or confrontation), hoping to lick his psychological wounds with reliable Dan’s shoulder to cry on.
There’s some middling comedy at the ravishing resort where they first land, with a hammily suggestive concierge (Kenneth Won) assuming they’re a closeted gay couple. Mostly the two go on day excursions where Dan tries to unblock Brandon’s emotions, while Brandon stubbornly clings to his self-piteous funk. It’s all a bit complicated by Dan’s admitting that Brandon has not, in fact, been a very good reciprocal friend, though not enough is made of this potentially interesting wrinkle.
Just past the half-hour point the protagonists move (alas) from awesome-looking Phuket resort The Slate to another location, en route meeting expat tour boat proprietor Ian, played by Green’s “Party Monster” costar Macaulay Culkin. The latter is fun as a flamboyant (if underdeveloped) character, but it’s at this juncture we realize that “Changeland” isn’t going to dig in on any level — it’s just going to drift along, sightseeing.
There’s potential romantic interest in the forms of Brenda Song and Clare Grant as two more boat tour guides; and a climax of sorts involving lots of drinking, amateur Thai kickboxing matches and WWE wrestler Randy Orton as an intimidating hulk who turns out to have a helpful philosophical side. But none of this really builds up much heft, dramatic or comedic. It’s a testament to the script’s genially undercooked feel that the movie ends without our even being sure that Brandon’s wife really cheated on him — or that he wouldn’t halfway deserve it if she did, being such a self-absorbed drip. These don’t seem to be doubts we’re intended to have, just the results of a screenplay that provides scant character backstory or shading.
Green, more typically the supporting sparkplug that juices scene after scene, stretches a bit too far in the opposite direction to play a depressive wet blanket we ought to feel more rooting value for. He cedes his usual role to Meyer and others who ably illustrate life-loving types, though again without a whole lot of writing depth to draw on.
Hollow as that may sound, “Changeland” is still an easy sit, thanks in part to the personable cast dynamics and an unhurried but lively pace. The main lure here, however is DP Patrick Ruth’s lensing of a series of knockout locations, with eye-popping verdant greens ranking first in a vibrant tropical color palette. Even if there are a few too many scenes here of scenic splendor or other visual stimuli accompanied by too many various-artist soundtrack cuts, the travelogue aspect is undeniably very, very attractive.