Ryan Reynolds as Mitch Planko
Jason Bateman as Dave Lockwood
Leslie Mann as Jamie Lockwood
Olivia Wilde as Sabrina McArdle
Alan Arkin as Mitch’s Dad
Mircea Monroe as Tatiana
Gregory Itzin as Flemming Steel
Ned Schmidtke as Ted Norton
Lo Ming as Ken Kinkabe
Sydney Rouviere as Cara Lockwood
Dax Griffin as Blow-Dried Goon
Andrea Moore as Sophia
Matt Cornwell as Parks Foreman
Craig Bierko as Valtan
Taaffe O’Connell as Mona
Directed by David Dobkin
Dave and Mitch (Jason Bateman, Ryan Reynolds) are best friends from childhood who have been living very different lifestyles – Dave as a high-paid lawyer with a wife and three kids, Mitch as a pot-smoking wannabe actor who sleeps with whatever woman he can get into bed. One night, they’re out drinking and they cross streams while pissing in a fountain; the next day, they find they’ve switched bodies and are forced to live the other one’s life in order to find out if the grass is indeed greener on the other side.
The idea of taking a PG concept like the body-changing comedy and transplanting it into very R-rated real world issues like marriage and sexual relationships is a daring choice to make, so it does make some sense when the idea doesn’t immediately work. For instance, when the movie begins with a diaper-changing scene that literally leaves Jason Bateman with sh*t in his mouth, you know you’re in trouble, because it means director David Dobkin, who has done both R-rated comedies and the PG kind, may be losing sight which audience this one is for.
The set-up is fairly simple as Bateman’s Dave and Reynolds’ Mitch are quickly introduced as they live their everyday lives, but when they get together for a baseball game and a drink, they get to talking about the pros and cons of their lives. Dave certainly would like to be with other women having spent his life married to his wife Jamie (Leslie Mann), while Mitch would like the stability of Dave’s life. It’s these musings while relieving themselves in what turns out to be a magic fountain is what starts the ball rolling and where the fun begins.
After the change, the movie is somewhat unbalanced since Bateman gets to have a lot more fun swearing in front of Dave’s daughter and giving her bad advice, while also tackling twin babies who seem to be borderline psychotic. Meanwhile, Dave in Reynolds’ body may not have it quite as bad though he’s subjected to a couple indignities while trying to acclimate to Mitch’s lifestyle. While that’s happening, Mitch starts to ruin Dave’s home life and cause trouble at the law firm, which is in the middle of an important merger.
Clearly, writing offensive lines for Reynold’s Mitch would be a lot more fun than writing for stick-in-the-mud Dave, and that’s why it’s quite a twist when Jason Bateman takes over the role from Reynolds and really kills it. Whatever is thrown at him, Bateman makes the most out of his chance to really cut loose. By comparison, Reynolds is just as funny when he’s cutting loose as Mitch, reminding us of his early role as Van Wilder, but just isn’t very interesting once Dave takes over his body.
As much as this is about Bateman and Reynolds, the movie wouldn’t work nearly as well if not for the two actresses, Leslie Mann and Olivia Wilde, who take what could have been marginal roles and turned them into real winners, really enhancing the journey of the two men. Alan Arkin also brings some class to the proceedings as Mitch’s father who has been disappointed with how little Mitch seems to care about responsibility.
What ultimately keeps the movie from being up there with some of the summer’s best comedies is the number of times it resorts to really obvious gross-out humor that doesn’t deliver the laughs the filmmakers must have expected. A scene with Mitch taking part in a softcore porn isn’t particularly funny and neither is the Leslie Mann bathroom scene that’s been all over the trailers and commercials.
Instead, the best laughs come from how the two actors play up their differences, and other than a few missteps, it’s mostly handled in a clever manner. For instance, the montage of Dave (in Mitch’s body) trying to teach Mitch (in Dave’s) how to be responsible is quite terrific as is the turnaround when Mitch has to prep Dave to go on a date in Mitch’s body. These scenes show that there’s a solid script at the core of the film and it’s definitely elevated by the two main actors’ ability to improve on any flaws by improvising. To some, it may even be surprising when the movie starts winning you over, which again, is mostly a testament to the talents of the actors.
Ultimately, this body-change has a purpose, to teach Mitch the meaning of responsibility and to show Dave how to relax and have fun, though as much as they begin to adapt to each other’s lives, they start missing what they had before. It’s not exactly a revelation or a spoiler, because that’s generally how all of these movies end, though there’s more than enough genuine warmth in how it’s handled that you wonder why they felt the need to resort to easy low-brow laughs earlier on.
The Bottom Line:
A talented cast and a strong last act is ultimately what saves “The Change-Up” from being a dud, though you’ll have to endure a lot of lazy gross-out humor before you get to a point where it can be appreciated. For some, the low-brow stuff might ruin what could have been a witty look at how to balance the responsibility of being a grown-up with relaxing and having fun, something everyone over 20 can appreciate.