Your Weekend at the Movies in Your Best Friend’s Body

08/05/2011 10:41 AM |

The Jodie Foster-Barbara Harris one would have been too obvious.
  • The Jodie Foster-Barbara Harris one would have been too obvious.

The Change-Up: There are two basic ways that body-switching movies are supposed to be fun. If it’s an adult and child switching bodies, as it was in the subgenre’s 1980s heyday, the fun comes from seeing an adult act like a child and, in the parlance of the one with Judge Reinhold, vice versa. If it’s two grown-ass men (or women—has there yet been a body-switch between two adult ladies? Did I just pitch a Kristen Wiig/Melissa McCarthy re-team? [Either that or that two-part episode of Buffy -Ed.]), you’re supposed to enjoy the two actors, presumably movie stars, imitating one imitating the other, as in John Woo’s Face/Off, which is so many best things (best Nic Cage action movie, best post-Pulp Fiction Travolta performance, best American John Woo movie) that it might as well be considered the best body-switching movie of all time, too.

In The Change-Up, the switchees (and prospective imitators of each other) are Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds. A bit of expositional (and unnecessary) math-fudging informs us that the thirty-five-year-old Reynolds and the forty-two-year-old Bateman are supposed to have met in third grade (maybe it was Bateman’s third grade, and Reynolds was a classmate’s newborn baby brother? [Movies have fudged ages far more egregiously than that, especially in olden times; that said, I was surprised to see that Reynolds is actually 35, he reads much younger, so I can see the awkwardness. -Ed.]). Since then, Dave (Bateman) has grown into a responsible lawyer family man, while Mitch (Reynolds) has decidedly not: an underemployed actor, he spends his days getting stoned, eating junk food, and bedding ladies. After urinating in a magical fountain and wishing for each other’s lives, they wake up the next morning in each other’s bodies.

This happens pretty quickly, but the two actors never really latch on to each other’s tics. At first glance, it seems indicative of their white-bread interchangeability; this is neither the only “Ryan Reynolds movie” or “Jason Bateman movie” to come out within the last three months. But they do have repertoires of sorts, at least in comedies: Bateman has his dry way of constantly suppressing horror, and Reynolds has his insincere slightly-richer-man’s-Dane-Cook shtick. Bateman, for his part, feels liberated once he gets to play the shameless hedonist Mitch; it’s a stock wiseass part, mouthy and impulsive, but it up-ends him out of neutered straight-man parts (Dave’s subplot is basically that of every Jason Bateman subplot: will Jason Bateman make partner?). It’s not quite a dead-on impression, but he does the Reynolds shtick with gusto.

Far more tragic than the fate of Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman, trapped in each others bodies in THE CHANGE-UP, is that of Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner) in Sirks IMITATION OF LIFE, who is trapped in her own body.
  • Far more tragic than the fate of Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman, trapped in each other’s bodies in THE CHANGE-UP, is that of Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner) in Sirk’s IMITATION OF LIFE, who is trapped in her own body.

But Reynolds is kind of doing it, too—using his own style to play the transplanted Dave, only occasionally making a go at Bateman’s mannerisms. As a result, he doesn’t come off as Bateman in a Reynolds body so much as a slightly more hesitant version of the same old Reynolds, and the movie feels lopsided. David Dobkin’s last raunchy buddy comedy, Wedding Crashers, may have been overrated and overlong, but the chemistry between Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn had a beautifully natural give and take (can you imagine them switching bodies?). The Change-Up tries for a similar mix of raunch and heart—as in any body-switching movie the boys must suck at, then conquer each other’s lives, then pine to return to their own bodies with newly learned lessons absorbed—and would probably not mind being referred to as The Marriage Crashers, which it kind of is.

Like Dobkin’s previous smash, The Change-Up has a lot of slow-moving fast talking; it’s a solid twenty minutes longer than it needs to be. People complain about Apatow productions outstaying their welcome, but at least the improv sequences that sometimes pad those movies feel genuinely freewheeling; this movie just bundles together as much raunch as possible, like a pitch session for a Farrelly Brothers movie. This summer has seen a lot of R-rated comedies reveling in their R-ratedness, but The Change-Up is the first one that seems to be consciously pushing the envelope. This lends it a kind of gleeful scatology that its immediate predecessors only flirted with; it also lends it a general ickiness, particularly in its fascination and repulsion in the face of human bodies. One of the movie’s running jokes: naked ladies not looking sexy! I guess it’s this credo that keeps Olivia Wilde’s clothes mostly kinda-sorta on. Yes, Olivia Wilde is in this too, playing Dave’s foxy legal aid, and adding a third major cast member who we’ve already seen in a movie in the past six weeks or so (usually a better one). Reynolds is lucky: his other summer movie was The Green Lantern. That means The Change-Up, which does have scattered laughs and a boisterous performance from Bateman, counts as his high point for the season.

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes: You know what I’m sick of? Reading reviews of this or the original Planet of the Apes movie that toss off observations about how of course the first Planet still holds up, but the sequels are all kind of lame and skippable. Certainly the franchise may have been spread too thin at times (although this newest attempt at revival waited a tasteful ten years after Tim Burton’s sometimes inventive, often surprisingly bland and ultimately not very successful “reimagining”), but if you actually sit down and watch the original five, especially keeping their exploitation-franchise roots in mind, you’ll see that the first, third, and fourth movies are quite good. (Beneath the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes have some interesting ideas but ultimately feel unnecessary given the markedly different storylines of the other three.) In fact, my favorite Apes movie, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, is sort of the basis for this new Rise movie. Conquest is set further into the future, after apes have evolved but while they are still subservient to humans; this one seems to have a similar story but set closer to the time of Escape from the Planet of the Apes (the third entry, and also quite good). I won’t try to reconcile all of the timelines; I’ll just say that I really hope this movie has riot sequences as impressive as the last twenty minutes of Conquest. Early reviews have been surprisingly positive considering the (semi-deserved) walloping Burton’s movie received ten years ago, and also, you know what I’m not sick of? Apes.