A lot of film critics get really grumpy when summertime comes around. Stretching from early May until late August, the summer movie season is when the studios' most expensive action blockbusters are revealed, and for a lot of my colleagues it means one numbing explosion after another. I don't feel that way. I came of age as a moviegoer by seeing films during the summer as a kid, and so the warm-weather months always make me a little giddy. Even this year I was really excited for the possibility of a "Wall-E" or a "Dark Knight." Well, that'll show me for being optimistic: Summer 2011 was one of the worst in a while. By the time "The Change-Up" came around in early August, I was very ready for self-important Oscar movies.
Summer 2011 will be known as the Summer of the R-Rated Comedies, with "The Hangover Part II," "Bridesmaids," "Horrible Bosses" and "Bad Teacher" all proving to be sizable hits. Other than "Bridesmaids," none of them was particularly good, but at least they're all better than "The Change-Up," which had the embarrassing distinction of being the one R-rated studio comedy that was both poorly reviewed and a commercial failure. (Even the lower-profile "Friends With Benefits" performed better.) Making it even more painful, "The Change-Up" starred two actors I really like, Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds. It was a car crash we all agreed to look away from.
The premise should have been a slam dunk. Bateman and Reynolds are best buds who have less time for each other now that Bateman's raising a family and Reynolds is stuck in a premature adolescence of crazy flings and acting auditions. But one night they magically switch bodies and have to cope with their friend's change-of-pace life. Hardly a groundbreaking hook, but we hadn't had a body-switch movie in a while, and seeing these two guys play each other would be fun, right? No. No, it wasn't fun at all.
Directed by David Dobkin, who practically helped invent the template of the modern R-rated summer comedy with "Wedding Crashers," "The Change-Up" seemed to be the ugly, crass twist on all that had made his previous film so funny and surprisingly sweet. Bateman and Reynolds weren't being "edgy" in "The Change-Up": They were just being jerks, ruining each other's lives and then not even having the guts to really risk being risque. (The movie kept taunting us with the idea that Reynolds would sleep with Bateman's hot wife, Leslie Mann, and that Bateman would get to nail his secretary, Olivia Munn. But those things never panned out because, hey, that might make audiences unhappy, and even though we're advertizing our movie as being "shocking," we don't want to actually offend anyone.) The movie wasn't funny; it was soul-crushing. It was enough to make you want to swear off movies and actually read books.
"The Change-Up" comes out on DVD today and, of course, there's an unrated version included. I dread what could be in that version. (Probable answer: more babies-shooting-poop-from-their-bottoms jokes.) When I started this post, I talked about summer movie season as a time for big action blockbusters. But I'll take a thousand "Transformers" before having to sit through another "Change-Up." Most summer movies, even if they're not my particular cup of tea, at least have some whiff of fun to them that helps explain why other people dig 'em. "The Change-Up" is just stupid and foul. Watching it, I felt bad for Bateman. I felt bad for Reynolds. But mostly I felt bad for me.