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On returning from a buying trip abroad for the department store in which he works, Marshall finds he is in possession of a strange ornamental skull. Marshall is divorced and is looking after his son Charlie for a few days. The skull has special powers, and when Marshall and Charlie simultaneously wish they were each others age, father and son exchange bodies. Now Charlie has to go to work, and Marshall to school. Charlie also has to deal with Marshall's girlfriend. If that weren't enough a pair of smugglers are in pursuit of the skull.Written by
"Big" meets "Freaky Friday" via "Like Father, Like Son," beating them all out single-handedly!
"Freaky Friday" was about a girl and her mother who switched bodies and had to cope with the outcome for a brief time period. The girl took the job, the mother took school. The film has been remade at least twice that I can think of off hand, once in 1995 for television with Shelly Long, and again this year with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan.
The formula was put to bad use in 1987's "Like Father, Like Son," which starred Dudley Moore and Kirk Cameron as father and son (respectively, of course) who swap places after a freak accident. A year later there was a movie about a father and son who swapped places and tacked work and school. It was called "Vice Versa," and I consider it the greatest of all these films.
What is Hollywood's fascination with swapping parent with child? It almost surely has something to do with cash. But, alas, I do not think that it is the fascination with swapping parent and child as much as just swapping in general. These body swap films were extremely popular during the 80s, but lately we've been seeing a revival of the formula, with Rob Schneider in one of the worst films of 2002, "The Hot Chick," and then the "Freaky Friday" remake.
There are lots of action films released every year. There are lots of comedies and dramas released every year, too. But I think you will be hard pressed to find the majority of those action films all about a guy stranded inside a building being taken over with hostages. I think you will be hard pressed to find the majority of dramas being about Mafia families. It will be even harder to find the character's name in the action film to be John McClane every time around, and every Mafia family's surname to be Corleone.
Basic formulas are used again and again, of course. But there are only so many times you can use the exact same plot, down to every last inch, and expect it to work.
"Vice Versa" does work, thanks to a pretty clever little script and great acting, by both Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage, whose role in "The Princess Bride" proved he good be a sweet little kid, and whose role here proves that he can be a sarcastic 30/40-something alcoholic.
Marshall (Reinhold) is a Chicago businessman who has no time for his 11-year-old son, Charlie (Savage). So when Charlie is sent to spend the weekend with his dad, things don't go so well -- until they make a wish that they could trade places, and an ancient Oriental antique grants their wish.
Marshall works at a big department store in downtown Chicago, host to all types of gadget and toy stores. Charlie, in Marshall's body, goes to work, and Marshall, in Charlie's body, goes to school. They both realize that they both have it tough and, in the end, overcome differences to learn to appreciate them.
Sounds sappy, huh? Sounds by-the-numbers? That's probably because, in a sense, it is. The film is a lot like "Big," released the same year, and a lot like "Freaky Friday," only with different genders in the leading roles. But I believe it's better than both films for a few reasons.
1. Tom Hanks gave a great performance in "Big," but acted more like an 8-year-old than a 13-year-old in a man's body. Fred Savage, as Marshall, not only pulls off the adult role, but Judge Reinhold convincingly portrays a fascinated 11-year-old. Because of this, it's actually a lot more believable and a lot more funny.
2. Charlie, in Marshall's body, does not come up with wonderful ideas for new toys, and does not wow the company chairman with his genius, straightforward designs like Hanks did in "Big." It was not only a convenient plot ploy, but also wholly stupid. "Vice Versa" actually presents a much clearer image of what a child would do in a man's body -- make mistakes, nearly lose his job, go into the department stores and start banging on drums and shooting arrows. (Don't ask.)
This is not only a fun film, but a much more honest film than "Big," which I enjoyed but not nearly quite as much as "Vice Versa." "Big" actually had some sexual amorality in it (13-year-old doing it with 30-year-old, etc.), and despite Tom Hanks' great performance, he did not convince me that he was a 13-year-old inside a man's body, but rather a younger child. All 13-year-olds know what women mean when they say that they want to sleep with them.
"Vice Versa" doesn't resort to typical plot turns. It also has a lot of fun with clean morals, and it came out the same year as "Big," meaning it didn't rip off its success like a lot of movies did thereafter. This is an honest family film as straightforward as Charlie is in Marshall's body. And though it may be copying old formulas in a lot of ways, in my own humble opinion, it succeeds far past the others.
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