Everybody’s favorite high-concept film is back! The exclusive club for such cinematic touchstones as Vice Versa, 18 Again!, and Like Father, Like Son has a new member.
Is the notion of two likable 30-something guys who really aren’t that different switching bodies as lame as it sounds, or does the movie itself pull the ol’ switcheroo and actually work? Is the R-rated The Change-Up worthy of this respected family of films — most of which, in fact, are family films?
We’re going for broke with this one, smacking The Change-Up against one of the genre’s most beloved (i.e. least hated) entries, the 2003 remake of Freaky Friday. (Yes, even these movies get remade.)
May the worst movie win! And then switch places with the loser! (See what I did there?)
Most of its predecessors attempted to maximize its comedic potential by having its body-switching protagonists be very different types of people at very different stages (mother/daughter, father./son, grandfather/son, hot blonde/creepy old man, etc.). The Change-Up dares to ask the question, “What if it’s just two likable 30-something buddies?” A bold gambit to tinker with the formula to make it sound even more lame than usual.
Up to the task, and up for pretty much anything are Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds. Bateman’s erratic career has been in high gear since Arrested Development so beautifully resurrected it. While Reynolds continues his long streak of attempts to justify his career and take his mind off images of his insanely hot ex-girlfriend sleeping with Sean Penn. Good luck with that, dude.
Bateman is a power lawyer and family man who has no time for fun. Reynolds is a pothead struggling actor (in Atlanta, by the way, that mecca for struggling actors) whose life is devoted to hedonism and laziness. And profanity. For what it’s worth, this is the most gleefully profane movie in recent memory. It’s like a 12-year-old who just discovered how to curse.
The director, David Dobkin (of the wildly over-rated Wedding Crashers fame), also throws in a John Landis-esque amount of female toplessness. But before you get too excited, know that it is the toplessness of a) a middle-aged woman with cartoonishly fake breasts; b) an enormously pregnant woman; c) Leslie Mann, or at the very least, Leslie Mann’s body double, and d) NOT Olivia Wilde. Sorry, guys.
But hey, speaking of John Landis and toplessness…
The Defending Champion
Jamie Lee Curtis first won our hearts as a scream queen in Halloween. Then she won other parts of us as a good-natured hooker who habitually doffed her top in Trading Places. Here she enjoys a huge critical and commercial success with Mark Waters’ Freaky Friday, despite making an entire generation of dudes feel instantly old by playing a widowed mom to a teenager.
Freaky Friday is actually a remake of a ’70s Jodie Foster flick. And yes, the irony is not lost on us that Foster would go on from it to be one of the most respected actresses of her generation, while Lindsay Lohan, in the respective remake role, would go on from her version to be one of the least-respected train wrecks in the universe.
Anyway, the remake departs pretty sharply from the original (mercifully, it eschews the formerly de rigeur practice of Disney live-action movies of getting its protagonist screaming with terror while on water skis). This version is set on the day before the widowed mom’s second marriage (to the still-dashing Mark Harmon).
Conflict arises between her and rebellious daughter Lohan (though the character is in fact a saint compared to the real Lohan), whose garage band lands an audition at the House of Blues that is the same Friday night as the rehearsal dinner. So tensions are running even higher than usual between them, but little do they know that their Friday is about to become…
Oh, you’re there already. Okay.
Freaky Friday — while not aimed at me, and not the sort of thing I’d recommend to my pals at the poker table — hits its target. It zips along quite smoothly, milks its premise for a wide variety of amusingly awkward scenarios, genuinely seems to like and care about its characters, and diverges enough from the original to justify its existence.
I never did figure out why the House of Blues would waste a Friday night on an audition. Or why a psychiatrist would be going to work on the day before her wedding. Or why a rehearsal dinner would be such a big, fancy affair. (What the hell was the actual wedding like?) But clearly, if you’re open to a premise wherein magic fortune cookies cause a mother and daughter to switch bodies, you’ll probably give a lot of that a pass, particularly when the lead performances are so winning.
Curtis especially seems to be having a blast playing a free-spirited teen; her exhilaration after having splurged with her new-found credit lines to replace her frumpy duds with stylish ones is positively intoxicating. Lohan pulls off the haughty, scolding mom thing pretty well, too; this was one of her last films before things really got icky for her, so it’s kind of sad to watch this and recognize the talent she would go on to completely waste.
On the other hand, The Change-Up starts with the fundamental problem that Reynolds and Bateman are simply not different enough from each other. One’s kind of uptight and one’s easy-going. It just ain’t enough to be funny.
Nor does the script even bother to think through the nuts and bolts of what such a switch would really entail. Reynolds-as-Bateman manages to get through some awkward board meetings, but how does he get through whole days of pretending to be a lawyer? We get that one night where he is turned off from sex with Mann by her digestive problems, but what about the other nights?
And on the Bateman-as-Reynolds side, we get that one abandoned booty call from the pregnant woman. But what about all the other flings that Bateman was so envious of that caused the switch in the first place?
No, the movie doesn’t care about the details, because it’s mainly just an excuse for a series of set pieces that are themselves an excuse for a series of “trailer moments,” most of which involve kinky sex and poop. Lots of poop. In fact, it practically opens with a tight close-up of a poopy diaper. And then things really get gross. If that sounds like it would hook you from the get-go, have at it.
Obviously, these are two very different films aimed at two very different audiences; teenage girls will find a lot to enjoy about Freaky Friday. Drunken frat-boys could conceivably laugh their asses of at The Change-Up, especially if they are idiots.
I’d have to go with the charming sweetness of Freaky Friday over the laughless smuttiness of The Change-Up.