Twist With a Twist

Don't write The Change-Up off just because it's the 18th body-swap comedy you’ve seen.

We need another big-budget, Hollywood-made body-swap movie about as much as we need another Twilight movie. Oh, right, we’re getting two more of those.

If you’re averse to this kind of thing — you know, Freaky Friday, 17 Again, 13 Going on 30, Face/Off (confession: I thought Face/Off was great!) — there’s really no need to see The Change-Up, in which two longtime pals, each with a different lifestyle, have 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 some twists and wrinkles that its predecessors didn’t have.

At the start, 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 he’s fine with taking turns getting up at 3 am when the twin infants start crying over soiled diapers. (Oh, yes, this is a movie filled with poop jokes, and they don’t all center around just those infants.)

There’s also Dave’s longtime best pal Mitch (Ryan Reynolds), who’s thrilled with the singles scene: being free to drink and do drugs and bring home someone new each night.

But that’s not the only difference between the guys. Dave is an overachieving, 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 (yeah, they get each other’s lives) to mean much, as it happens at the 15-minute point.
Yet despite the clichéd plot device and its poor placement, the two leads deserve some credit. Each actor does a yeoman’s job of playing the other’s character. Bateman turns the once highly regarded, 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 goes from cocky ladies man to nervous Nelly — not a good position to be in when a low-class director on a shoddy movie set orders him to “perform.”

The film is loaded with funny stuff, ranging from drug jokes to sex jokes. There’s even a good gag in which poet Robert Frost takes one on the chin. But amid all of that (and an abundance of casual cursing and nudity), the script manages to work in a dose of humanity that doesn’t get in the way of its freewheeling humor.

Though it happens a little too late, details about the two guys do eventually emerge, making the switch more appealing. 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 due to all of the comic playing-it-to-the-hilt that they’d done up to that point.

The build-up to the film’s inevitable conclusion gets stretched too far, and the dip into cliché territory becomes apparent when Dave and Mitch start, you know, 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.

Disney Movie Trivia @ Spokane Comedy Club

Tue., April 13, 7 p.m.
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