This seems to be the summer for actors to double up on their work. Jason Bateman is only just coming off of last month’s Horrible Bosses; Ryan Reynolds isn’t much further from The Green Lantern; even Olivia Wilde just had a supporting role last week in Cowboys & Aliens. And now Bateman and Reynolds anchor The Change-Up, with support from Wilde. All told I’d probably put it above The Green Lantern but below the other two, so go see Cowboys & Aliens while you still can.
Let’s get this out of the way right up front: The Change-Up doesn’t have the most original premise in the world. But let’s be honest here, it hasn’t ever been done like this. Most of the time the whole body-switching thing shows up in kids’ movies, or the occasional sci-fi-ish television episode, where it has its own usage profile. For kids, one of the characters is, of course, a kid and doesn’t really have much in the way of an acting portfolio. The result is a grown-up acting like a generic kid, and a kid trying to act like a kid’s impression of a generic grown-up. Even if you expand the umbrella you can only pull in something like Face/Off, which still doesn’t give much to work with in the character department.
But in this case there’s some promise. Bateman and Reynolds each have a pretty well-defined typical role that they’ve gotten pretty good at. More to the point, their characteristic roles are at least somewhat distinguishable, and therein lies the question: can Bateman play a standard Reynolds role, while Reynolds plays a standard Bateman role? And the answer is, well, sorta.
In this case, Bateman is Dave: fast-tracked for partnership in his law firm, married to Jamie (Leslie Mann), and father of a four-year-old girl and infant twins. He’s feeling the stress and daydreams of escape, possibly with his legal assistant (Wilde). He lives vicariously through the stories of his childhood friend Mitch (Reynolds), who works sporadically as an actor but generally fritters his life away, to the disappointment of his father (Alan Arkin). Drunk one night wandering away from a sports bar, they stop to empty their bladders into a fountain in a public park while wishing for each other’s lives. A mysterious blackout rolls through and the next morning they wake up in each others’ bodies.
Now, of course things get worse in that the fountain has been removed by the time they get there — like the Zoltar machine in Big — and finding it will require going through a bureaucratic records system — like in Big — which could take a while — like you get the picture already. In the meantime, each one has time to screw up and repair the other’s life.
Unsurprisingly, though, Mitch doesn’t exactly have a lot to screw up, so we really spend more time on Dave using his time in Mitch’s body to Learn Valuable Lessons about his own life and marriage, while Mitch struggles with holding Dave’s life together. Mitch’s life serves more as fodder for the raunchier humor, of which there is plenty. It’s no Farrelly Brothers, thankfully, but it’s still enough to stop being all that funny after a while.
So how do Bateman and Reynolds do? Well Bateman holds it together relatively well and does a passable Reynolds, though it’s not exactly the most distinctive style. Reynolds, on the other hand does a fairly good Bateman except when the scene calls for him to get excited, at which point he reverts to his own type. And without that whole experiment working out, the rest of the movie sorta flops.