Friday, September 2, 2011

The Change-Up (2011)

Body-switch comedies aren't new. While we can point to a myriad of incarnations that failed to impress there are also those that entertain despite this unoriginal conceit. Two that stand out in my mind are Big and Face/Off; one a sweet, child's adventure into adulthood and the other an outlandish farce heightened by the talent in front of and behind the camera. Neither are believable, both are using a silly and generic premise, and both are entertaining features in their own right. As far as I'm concerned, The Change-Up is the R-rated, raunchy, dumb comedy addition to that shelf and the funniest film I've seen all year. Sure, Bridesmaids is very funny, and probably a better overall movie, but when it comes to laughs this one delivers.

The Change-Up begins with a poop joke that is more than a gross-out moment. Had the feces that were fired from the baby's visibly-pulsing, CG rectum only splattered Jason Bateman's eye it would have been merely a gross-out moment. Instead, a second solid stream lands squarely in his mouth. I didn't have time to think. I didn't know what to do. I certainly didn't want to look, but one thing was for certain, I was no longer thinking of the stupid concept at the film's core. I was suddenly on guard and at attention as to what other surprises this film had in store.

This single moment had effectively reminded me I was here to watch a comedy and not worry about the concept of two friends who switch bodies and live the other's life for a few days. Sure, it used juvenile potty humor to get its point across, but it was that moment of self-awareness I appreciated as I began to realize these guys probably wouldn't have made this film had there not been enough laughs to sustain it.

The premise follows Dave (Bateman), a lawyer and family man with a wife and two kids, and Mitch (Ryan Reynolds), a dead beat, F-level actor more interested in smoking weed than he is growing up. Early on we're given glimpses into these guys' personalities and how Dave is leading the straight and narrow life though he does have a wandering eye for his lovely assistant Sabrina (Olivia Wilde), and how Mitch is essentially a Fiero-driving whore with daddy issues and a mouth that's as unfiltered as it is non-stop. This all sets up the moment where Mitch and Dave get drunk, pee in a park fountain and suddenly switch lives. From there on out, things get a lot more entertaining and incredibly obscene.

It's no surprise we're watching a film from Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the screenwriters that penned the first The Hangover (not the second), and David Dobkin, the director of Wedding Crashers. The film is consistently filled with laughter and only in the brief moments near the end does it overstay its welcome, forgetting the unapologetic nature with which its treated the film's concept and relying on typical genre trappings to bring the story home. However, it's a small price to pay for the number of laughs.

The good thing about a body-switch comedy is the story writes itself; two characters switch bodies, their lives are unfamiliar and turned upside down. They screw things up, learn things about themselves and their friends, fix things and eventually everything goes back to normal. This isn't rocket science. All that's necessary is to inject this outline with what is going to separate this film from those before it.

Big separated itself by approaching adult themes through the eyes of a child and casting Tom Hanks. Face/Off utilized a maniacal Nicolas Cage channeled through John Travolta… plus the addition of bullets, doves and Gina Gershon. The Change-Up pulls it off by being as foul-mouthed, offensive and raunchy as it can possibly get and doing so with only two poop jokes. Yeah, only two. Can you believe it? And both are seen in the variety of trailers that have been released and only one has to do with the babies. Gasp!

In a year that has given us several R-rated comedies, I was pleasantly surprised by the one I doubted the most. Maybe this is why I was so entertained. I don't know. What I do know is I laughed a lot and would gladly watch it again.

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