The writers of The Hangover and the director of Wedding Crashers know that you’ve seen just as many body-switching comedies from the ’80s as they have, but the way they figure it, you’ve not yet seen a raunchy one. Thus we’re faced with The Change-Up, a frat-friendly Freaky Friday that tackles the formula with its proverbial dick in its hands.
Case in point: When carefree bachelor Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) and workaholic family man Dave (Jason Bateman) drunkenly wish that they could have one another’s lives for themselves, they do so while pissing into a public fountain. Each wakes up the following morning in the other’s bed and the other’s body, panicking over how this happened and how to handle their conveniently looming work appointments and home-front duty.
Writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore and director David Dobkin then mount something of a shock-and-awe campaign, front-loading their film with “S”-themed shenanigans: sexual gags, scatological humor and social embarrassment. Dave takes a baby’s dump in the face within the first five minutes, and the tone hardly wavers from that first note. One scene boasts both homophobia and gerontophobia in one sweaty, naked package; another, involving infants in a kitchen, plays like a desperate, live-action Roger Rabbit routine.
As Dave-inside-Mitch, Reynolds is ably flustered. Meanwhile, the responsible breadwinner thing’s a bitch too; Mitch-inside-Dave has to contend with a fed-up wife (Leslie Mann) and a Big Important Deal at the law firm. Bateman is all bedhead and bad words in the part, clearly eager to cut loose from his typically square persona.
The best thing that can be said for the performers is that they’re game for anything. Mann, especially, gets it; she plays the initial skepticism and marital frustration perfectly, with a critical hint of sadness and a willingness to push a joke into amusingly weird territory.
The formula dictates that the shenanigans give way to second-half schmaltz, as the guys realize what’s really important. The Change-Up wants to be a cruder body-swapping comedy than you’ve seen, and that accomplishment cannot be denied. But the switch in tone is no surprise.