Flip the switch on switched personality comedies, please
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
Charles Dickens was half-right in his imminently quotable introduction to “A Tale of Two Cities” because The Change-Up, the umpteenth cinematic switcheroo comedy, certainly offers compelling evidence for this being “the worst of times.” Director David Dobkin (Fred Claus, Wedding Crashers) now bears responsibility for helming a tale so devoid of originality, wit or humanity that it has obliterated any and all of the goodwill that co-star Jason Bateman has amassed over the course of nearly the last decade as a re-imagined television star (Arrested Development) and scene-stealing supporting performer (The Kingdom, Juno, and even Paul from earlier this year).
The Change-Up presents the notion that Dave (Bateman), a stupendously successful attorney and married father of three, would want to change places with his best friend Mitch (Ryan Reynolds), a “loveably” kinky flake of an actor with no real prospects on the horizon to support his continued existence or any claim that he might be a redeemable collection of DNA. In other words, David and Mitch are the kinds of friends that only appear in movies like The Change-Up because there is no way that these guys would ever want to acknowledge they spend time on the same continent together. But here, after a night of drinking and watching baseball together at their local bar, they cross piss streams in a public fountain and wake up the next morning in each other’s bodies.
Cue hilarity, right?
In the best-case scenario, yes, that would happen. We know from a movie like Big that when kids wish to be adults, there are some tough lessons to be learned from the experience. Ultimately, that it is preferable to enjoy each and every moment to come rather than wishing it all away. Or when movie fate gives characters the chance to relive key moments from their past – the “if I only knew then what I know now” instances – we come to appreciate that hindsight doesn’t conclusively make things better either.
To switch bodies, though, with either friend or foe, well, that’s the trickiest case of them all. Because beyond the lessons each of the characters must learn, there is also the difficult task assigned to the actors who must make audiences see and appreciate the intricate craft of assuming a multi-layered and nuanced study of being two or more people at once. The last time two performers danced along this highwire and made me feel groovy was probably when John Travolta and Nicolas Cage faced off in John Woo’s Face Off. It was raucous and campy and, fortunately for them, Woo was firmly in command of every other aspect of the show, which gave them freedom to “dance with the Devil in the pale moonlight.”
Before long, it was obvious they were the two sides of this devilishly twisted coin.
Unlike Woo, Dobkin has no signature style (it could be argued he has no style at all actually), which means he’s simply going lewd and crude and that handcuffs Bateman and Reynolds to a monotonous deadbeat. No matter how much the narrative set up wants us to believe these guys are polar opposites, the reality is they are, and always have been, the same guy with three left feet, stuck in the same boring situation, and who wants to see these two performers who have proven to be agile, fast-talking charmers elsewhere mired in this kind of muck? The Change-Up provided a glimpse of the worst or times, and heralds that those dancing days may not be over any time soon.
Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi