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Movie Review: The Change-Up

Credit: Universal Pictures

By Steve Greene

Aug. 8, 2011 1:00 a.m.

It’s understandable that a film documenting the exploits of two men who have physically switched bodies may take liberties with other elements of lifelike representation. However, “The Change-Up” presents absurdly unrealistic portrayals of a number of disparate elements, including laws governing indecent exposure, the projectile nature of infant bowel movements, the possibility of hydroplaning while speeding through a Georgia downpour, the effectiveness of country-club security and the logistics of federal mediation.

All these ridiculous circumstances center around a pair of friends, Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) and Dave (Jason Bateman), who, in a moment of alcohol-induced frenzy, decide to urinate in a public fountain. Their fascination with each other’s day-to-day lives (Mitch is a womanizing slacker with low-hanging acting aspirations, while Dave is about to make partner at a business law firm) leads them to wish for each other’s lifestyle. The next morning, each are transported into the other’s body. Hilarity ensues.

Because the story offers the minimum amount of character background before the switch, the exposition suffers from an uninteresting middle ground. Had the movie placed the two men in front of the fountain at the story’s outset, it might have been more interesting to share their discovery of the new worlds into which they’ve been thrust. Instead, the awkward situations that they’ll inevitably find themselves in are foreshadowed well in advance, rendering those moments both uncomfortable and predictable.

It’s hard to imagine that, with another human controlling his life, either of these men would give each other free reign to execute his daily routine. Yet, Mitch and Dave each find downtime to do plenty of other things instead of planning how to live as each other. They don’t even think to take sick days to sort things out. Instead, Mitch undoes years of litigation prep in a matter of minutes, while Dave fumbles his way through the first full day of Mitch’s big acting career.

Even though there are significant problems in establishing the ground rules for body-swapping in Atlanta, the two men who are forced to carry the film are, luckily, the bright spots. Reynolds never quite hits the potty-mouthed, stoner vibe of Mitch when he inhabits his original body. But he deftly captures some of Bateman’s more noticeable acting tics, chief among them the sideways glance/squinting eye combo when delivering bad news or sarcastic retorts. It’s unfathomable that Mitch’s character could be so moronic when cradling another man’s life in his Cheeto-stained fingers, but Bateman plays oafish so well that sometimes it’s easy to forget how implausible it all is.

In a film that relies on physical humor, some of the visual gags that backfire the most involve Bateman’s two toddlers. What was intended to be a playful, humorous attempt at replicating baby stunts through special effects ends up looking like something from the 1988 Pixar short “Tin Toy.”

It’s something that is painfully close to realistic but so recognizably fake that it’s off-putting. Unfortunately, considering that most of the movie suffers from the same problem, they don’t seem all that out of place.

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Steve Greene
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