I believe it was Socrates who once advised “Never pee into a public fountain while wishing you had the life of a friend who’s peeing next to you, lest you run the risk of a magical statue smirking as it transplants your brains and causes a brief electrical blackout in all surrounding buildings.”
That’s the age-old lesson in The Change-Up, which could also be called Freaky Friday With Porn or Vice Versa With Lots Of Cussing.
Back in my day – the 1980s – movies like this came out at least three times a week. Ungrateful sourpusses were always swapping brains, only to learn that the lives of those they swapped with are even more horrific than their own. We were a simple people, without internets or Lady Gagas, and it didn’t take much to entertain us. The fact that the concept has been unearthed like a zombie corpse is both genius and pathetic. Luckily for paying customers, the movie is funny enough that it most often veers more toward the genius side of the equation.
Among the myriad ways in which the film succeeds:
• It lets Ryan Reynolds be Ryan Reynolds. Too many movies give Reynolds mega power rings from the planet Oa or plague him with Amityville Horrors or, worse, Sandra Bullock. This movie just lets him be the guy he was as one of the guys in the show Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place. Meaning, it lets him be charming, sex-obsessed and do that thing where he whips his head toward the camera while delivering witty lines out of the side of his mouth. If they had an American Idol based on doing that rather than singing, Ryan Reynolds would at the very least make it to the Hollywood round.
• It proves Jason Bateman does not employ a blind monkey dart thrower who chooses romantic comedy scripts. Or, if he does employ such a creature, it occasionally can hit targets other than the dregs of The Switch, The Promotion and The Ex. Bateman plays the buttoned-down family man who swaps brains with the womanizing slacker played by Reynolds.
• It explores the untapped comedic realm of abusing computer-generated babies. Who knew they were good for knife fights, projectile pooping, counter-surfing and crib-braining? Writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, that’s who.
• It manages to frame the female breast as a weapon of torture on several occasions. Just trust me on this one. Or don’t and steer away from some disturbing sights.
As with most comedies, most of the best stuff is near the beginning, and the obligatory story and life lesson elements sap the middle and end of much of its joy. But The Change-Up wins more than it sins, and had me laughing and cringing. The movie may not be quite as good as the 1980s masterpieces it copies, according to my corrupted memories that hold up Joe Montana as a lava-slinging volcano god of fire and Alf to have been a worthwhile show. But hey, the work of the likes of Kirk Cameron and Fred Savage in their primes cannot be truly copied, just imitated and spliced with boob jokes.
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Jason Bateman, Leslie Mann and Olivia Wilde. Written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. Directed by David Dobkin. 113 minutes. Rated R.
Phil’s novel, Stormin' Mormon, is available as a Kindle book for $1.