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Growing up together, Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) and Dave (Jason Bateman) were inseparable best friends, but as the years have passed they've slowly drifted apart. While Dave is an overworked lawyer, husband and father of three, Mitch has remained a single, quasi-employed man-child who has never met a responsibility he liked. To Mitch, Dave has it all: beautiful wife Jamie (Leslie Mann), kids who adore him and a high-paying job at a prestigious law firm. To Dave, living Mitch's stress-free life without obligation or consequence would be a dream come true. Following a drunken night out together, Mitch and Dave's worlds are turned upside down when they wake up in each other's bodies and proceed to freak out. Despite the freedom from their normal routines and habits, the guys soon discover that each other's lives are nowhere near as rosy as they once seemed. Further complicating matters are Dave's sexy legal associate, Sabrina (Olivia Wilde) and Mitch's estranged father (Alan Arkin). With time...Written by
Never totally escapes the predictability, but does a decent job skirting it
Oh, the body-swap comedy. You know how it starts, you know how it ends and frankly, you know most of what's in between. To name an R-rated buddy version of this formula "The Change-Up" is essentially serving up a thick slice of irony, yet somehow "The Hangover" writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore and "Wedding Crashers" director David Dobkin manage to change just enough to prevent predictability from drowning their film entirely.
The film starts neck deep, however. Jason Bateman's character Dave wakes up bright and early thanks to his newborn twins, one of which projectile poos all over his face. Gross-out humor might be one of the worst ways to start a modern comedy, but somehow "The Change-Up" manages to recover thanks to a strong cast and writing that works when it's not trying too hard to be funny.
Dave and Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) are old friends with opposite lifestyles that predictably wish they could have what the other has. Dave has been an achiever all through his life and never stopped to enjoy himself in the ways of drugs and women, for example. That would be typical bachelor Mitch's life. Mitch, on the other hand, would love for even a modicum of success and stability. Plug in a magic fountain activated by two different simultaneous urine streams and voila — body-swapping comedy.
Thus begins the journey of the two friends toward the inevitable learning not to take for granted the lives they have. To be fair, Lucas and Moore write in some scenes that break convention. Early on, for example, there's the scene when they try and convince Dave's wife (Leslie Mann) that they've switched bodies by telling her to ask Dave (in Mitch's body) a question only he would know. Seen that before, right? Rather than she predictably believing them, things take a comic turn when Dave reveals a very private detail about her.
When "The Change-Up" isn't forcing in Farrelly brothers-inspired gross-out humor, it's a decent comedy. For one, the writing from a non-jokes standpoint has surprising strength. At several moments the film goes down some more dramatic side streets that feel natural because the characters have just enough depth for us to care. Mann's performance in particular helps this along — she's far from the typical mother/wife figure in a buddy comedy.
By establishing a bit of a routine in that Mitch in Dave's body must try and prevent Dave's law firm's merger from falling through while also balancing a family life and Dave in Mitch's body must simply get laid in a strange matter of ways, the story doesn't spiral out of control. The focus stays mostly on Mitch in Dave's body as he's the significantly less shallow character with more going on. Bateman takes advantage, transforming himself with a terrific number of quirks, which he's done so well in his career. On a number of occasions, however, the way you'd expect a character to behave and how they actually behave don't match up, which definitely hurts the ability to get caught up in the story, but there's a logic to the sequence of events and as such, natural jokes evolve that counteract the bad ones to some extent.
Somehow the writing manages to hit on points of sentimentality as well. Despite the inevitability of the outcomes, the story arcs of the characters make good use of this tired concept as they drift from hating the change to embracing it to the realization that they truly appreciate their own lives. Some thought definitely went into character motivation, otherwise we'd feel nothing. Dobkin captured the same thing in "Wedding Crashers," but the difference here is obviously the novelty factor. As such, a film can never outrun predictability. It can be taken advantage of as best as the talents involved possibly can, but it always wins.
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