Review: ‘The Change-Up’

The Projector

1. Movies like "The Change-Up" are the reason the word "adult" has a different meaning in the world of movies than it does in the rest of the planet. In the rest of the world, adult means "of age," or "mature," or, at the very least, "capable of understanding object permanence." You have "an adult conversation." Let's "all act like adults here." It's supposed to be a good thing! This is not what "adult" means in mainstream movies. In movies, adult means boobies. Adult means "adult themes." Adult means bad. Adult is sniggering, cheap, tawdry infantilism. Adult in movies means the exact opposite of what adult actually means, what adult should mean.

2. "The Change-Up" is "for adults" as long as those adults are 13 years old, male and perhaps currently masturbating. Its hackeneyed premise is nearly as ancient as movies themselves: Body switching! (Seriously, "Freaky Friday" is almost as old as our President.) There was zero thought process in the making of "The Change-Up" that went any further than "it's a body swap movie, except there are boobies and poop jokes and cursing and also there are boobies." That is the extent of its imagination. You can probably blame "The Hangover" for this. That film ushered in this new age of R-rated comedies that are ironically dirty, you know, in on the joke. (This makes it OK to use racial and gay slurs and rely on as many grossout gags as you can; you're doing it ironically!) The difference, of course, was that "The Hangover" was an actual mystery, with a sure-fire concept but also a smartly constructed plot and clearly defined (if basic) characters. None of the films made in the wake of its massive success -- including its own sequels -- took nearly the care or interest on surprising that film did. They thought "The Hangover" was a hit because it was fearless, ribald and featured Heather Graham breast feeding. God help us if they're right.

3. Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman are the body swappers in "The Change-Up," and their personalities are cartoonish and one-note by design. Bateman's the nerdy, passive, workaholic family man, and Reynolds's the irresponsible party boy who sleeps with a different woman every night. (This movie's idea of a "joke" is to make one of the women pregnant. "The Change-Up" thinks that having sex with a pregnant woman is just about the most disgusting thing a person could do. It's that type of movie.) They admit to envying each other's lives -- an obvious "observation" that this film seems to honestly think is profound -- so, one night while urinating in a water fountain, body swap. Bateman is suddenly the cocky ladies man who has to change a diaper, and Reynolds is the tightarse who has to learn to loosen up. Neither personality is established as anything other than an obvious caricature from the beginning, so seeing the two men act like one another has no effect: You're just watching two dumb stereotypes move from one chair to another.

4. When did "The Change-Up" lose me? It might have been in the opening minute, when Bateman is projectile excreted on by one of this children. The poop joke is fine: All right-thinking humans like a good poop joke. But that is not enough for "The Change-Up." No, we also need a CGI-shot closeup of the child's anus flapping as the poo exits? Is that excessive? I would argue that it is. (Seriously: CGI Baby Anus.) The film is crass for the sake of being crass. Do you think it's funny to watch Reynolds stick his thumb in the rear crevice of an elderly porn star? This film sure does. Reynolds and Bateman are game for all this, maybe a little too game; Bateman, in particularly, is gonna start losing a lot of that "Arrested Development" goodwill if he keeps this up. The only castmember to escape dignity intact is Leslie Mann, who, while once again playing the sassy but vulnerable wife who can still talk dirty like the boys, tries desperately to provide the film with a heart it doesn't otherwise have. Instead, she is limited to CGI boobs.

5. Honestly, I give up on this. "The Change-Up" is cynical, tone-deaf junk that has nothing to contribute to the world but smirks and a general dismissive attitude toward human connection and interaction. Grossout comedies, "adult" comedies, don't have to be like this; what made "The 40-Year Old Virgin" and "Bridesmaids" so enjoyable was that for all their weed and masturbation jokes, they were about real people and real situations. "The Change-Up" takes the worst parts of these movies and none of the good parts. There is nothing wrong with adult comedies. But a 13-year-old is not an adult. Even if he thinks he is.

Grade: D+