From Freaky Friday and to Face/Off, the body swap film has been a staple of Hollywood for decades. The heyday of the 1980s saw a run of these films in Vice Versa, Like Father Like Son and for all intents and purposes Big, peaking (or perhaps bottoming out) with the Charlie Schlatter/George Burns swap in 18 Again! With the exception of Disney’s Freaky Friday remake in the mid-1990s, Australia’s own Dating the Enemy and the smattering of instant non-classics 13 Going on 30 and 17 Again (remember Zac Efron?), the body swap has been dormant for a few years, laying in wait for the right moment to spring its unique brand of comedy on a not entirely unsuspecting public. The time is now and the film is The Change-Up.
Once inseparable friends, Dave Lockwood (Jason Bateman, Horrible Bosses) and Mitch Planko (Ryan Reynolds, Green Lantern) have grown up and grown apart. At least one of them has. Dave is a high-flying lawyer on the verge of a major deal, with little time left for his wife Jamie (Leslie Mann, I Love You Philip Morris) or his three young children. Mitch, on the other hand, has never had to commit to anything in his life, and ekes out an existence as a stoned wannabe actor with daddy issues. When a chance spot of urination in a public fountain sees Dave and Mitch swap bodies, they must take on each other’s lives and responsibilities, learning a little something about each other in the process.
The basic premise behind The Change-Up is nothing new, and follows the classic body switching motifs to the letter. Yet writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (The Hangover films) follow another trend that has been around since at least 2005’s The 40 Year Old Virgin, and goes for crude shocks rather than simple comedies of error. This trend more than anything is a return to the raucous frat-house style comedies of the 1980s (Porkies, National Lampoon’s Animal House) and it is a welcome one at that. From simple sight gags, such as the way the clueless Mitch (in the body of Dave) attempts to carry the children to the more frank depictions of sex and sexuality, it runs rings around the coy winks to the audience that other mainstream rom-coms use as a substitute for reality. Domestic life is also presented with hilarious frankness, with the kind of casual nudity and inter-couple bickering that is reminiscent of Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up. Indeed, Leslie Mann is virtually playing the same character she did in that film, albeit enhanced with prosthetic breasts, and is set to reprise in next year’s This Is 40.
Bateman and Reynolds make a likeable pair of leads, and it is refreshing to see Bateman playing something other than his Arrested Development character (outside of his Dodgeball cameo, of course) that has followed him through Horrible Bosses and Extract. Portraying the douche that Reynolds has made a career out of seems to be liberating for the actor, although Reynolds doesn’t succeed quite as well in aping the Bateman persona and demonstrates his own limited range in the process. Olivia Wilde is employed solely as eye-candy, and you will require a trip to the dentist/optometrist after a couple of steamy scenes between her and Reynolds. Either way, this is the kind of fun popcorn fodder that beats the Friends with Benefits of the world at their own game, and provides a feature-length advertisement for contraception in the process.
The Change-Up is released on 8 September 2011 in Australia from Universal.