August 4, 2011


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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THE CHANGE UP – Watch It At Home:  Cliches with Dirty Words Are Still Cliches
There have been plenty of R-rated comedies this summer–a bumper crop, really–but none more fully committed to raunch than THE CHANGE-UP.  The script by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (they wrote The Hangover, but also Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) doesn’t use one piece of profanity where 3 would do; there’s enough off-color material to make it “on.”
And as the saying goes:  not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Mel Brooks made Blazing Saddles in 1974 and proved that flat-out grossness could be hysterically funny; David Mamet, among others, can make scabrous dialogue sound like music.  The Change-Up, however–not quite in their league.

The Change-Up‘s plot wins no points for originality.   Dave (Jason Bateman) is a respectable attorney gunning for partner, with a lovely wife (Leslie Mann) and kids; his best friend Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) is a swinging bachelor whose aimless life (he’s currently trying to be an actor) mostly rotates around getting laid.  Mitch kinda envies Dave’s stability; Dave sorta longs for Mitch’s freedom; one late, drunken night they cross streams while urinating in a fountain, and voila!  Body switch!  Now Dave must endure Mitch’s demeaning jobs and discover how kinky his best friend’s sex life really is, and Mitch has to pick the kids up from ballet class (and change diapers!  Ha!) and find out what married life is really like.
This stuff is Comedy 101, and the only idea Lucas and Moore have for spicing it up is making it hugely broad.  Some of this, as directed by David Dobkin (of Wedding Crashers) rises to a level of cartoonishness that can be quite funny:  there’s a sequence where Mitch narrowly manages not to kill Dave’s baby in the kitchen that’s like a live-action Looney Tunes bit, and Leslie Mann is uttery fearless in her willingness to show the good and the bad of longtime mariage.  At other times, though, the jokes are almost desperate in their attempt to be edgy:  I won’t spoil the secret of Mitch’s hot Russian girlfriend, or the details of his acting gig, but the gags makes no sense, given what we know about Mitch, other than as gags.
The Change-Up is most tiresome in its second half, when it gets down to the grinding, predictable work of having the body switch turn Mitch and Dave into Better Human Beings.  From the time we see how busy Dave is and how little attention he pays to his wife, and Mitch’s irresponsibility (he’s not nice to his dad, played by Alan Arkin), we know what lessons they’re going to learn, and pretty much how it’s going to happen.  There’s nothing remotely subversive about The Change-Up‘s message:  for all its “edgy” humor, the picture is finally as conservative as a Doris Day movie.
That’s not to say the movie doesn’t have its charm or some laughs.  The two stars are as personable as anyone could wish, and they each do a great job at conveying the other’s personality after the body switch.  Reynolds rebounds from his Green Lantern debacle to demonstrate again what an expert light comic he is, and it’s a pleasure to see Bateman, once he’s “Mitch,” cut loose against the suburban lifestyle.  Mann doesn’t just get her laughs–she has the bulk of the more dramatic moments, and pulls them off too.  Olivia Wilde, as Dave’s junior lawyer, who has to deal with a mess of permitted and forbidden romantic interests (guess where that plotline ends up), is able to be far more likable here than Cowboys and Aliens permitted.

The Change-Up, powered by its cast, is fitfully entertaining, but it’ll fare better on the small screen.  Besides its sitcom look and feel, there’ll be the priceless ability to fast-forward through the dull Life Lessons sections and watch the bits that work.  Meanwhile, the Summer of Raunch continues:  we’re just a week away from 30 Minutes or Less.  

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."