Friday, August 5, 2011

The Change-Up

Has A Movie Ever Made Your Blood Boil?

Jason Bateman as Dave and Ryan Reynolds as Mitch in David Dobkin's "The Change-Up". 

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
day, August 5, 2011

Existing in the vacuum of its own nonsense, David Dobkin's comedy "The Change-Up" comes from the body-swapping school of hard knocks.  "Freaky Friday" and "Like Father Like Son" have been here before. 

Have you ever seen a movie that made your blood boil?  For this father of one "The Change-Up" is that movie. 

Dave (Jason Bateman, who played a Dave in July's "Horrible Bosses") is a lawyer in Atlanta.  He and Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) are lifelong best friends.  An unemployed actor, Mitch auditions for "porn-lite" movies.  (Compare the unemployed, porn-obsessed louse in "Larry Crowne".)  After mixing baseball with beer Dave and Mitch donate to the Piss-A-Wish Foundation, relieving themselves in a public fountain, which, thanks to their middle-class urine, has the holy arrogance to shut down the entire power grid for downtown Atlanta.  These homoerotic buds wake up the next morning inside the bodies of each other, making love to each other's fantasy life for several weeks. 

"The Change-Up" projects a fallacy of fantasies and shows that neither "borrowed" life is any fun.  The film runs like a straw-man argument, except the rejoinder to it pummels hard, all the way through.  "The Change-Up" plunges headlong into the equivalent of the Grand Guignol of comedy nightmares.  It's a non-stop hate-fest, pure vitriol burning bright.  Babies are treated like footballs or pancakes.  Women exist as props, solely to be despised.  It's a sad, exhausting, humorless, knock-down drag-out debacle.  There's no imagination and no characters to invest in.  Not a single one.

What "The Change-Up" does early on, in such a lazy, expedient way, is introduce us to its outré third-rail menace without allowing us to get to know Dave and Mitch.  The film knows it has shallow, caricatured creatures and readily dispenses with any suggestion otherwise.  We see Dave and Mitch's "Jackass" antics: dropping babies on the floor for "fun", allowing unsupervised babies to stick their hands in blenders and to electrocute themselves repeatedly.  It's quite incredible to see this level of outlandishness and taser-jolting, cattle-prod knee-jerk foolery, yet it's been done before, and it's no less uncomfortable to watch. 

Mr. Dobkin's film plays like a horror movie, which is precisely what it is.  I wondered if Chucky would show up with his cleavers and start throwing them.  Babies do that in "The Change-Up".  Their aim is pretty good.  I felt assaulted by the unmitigated hate and contempt "The Change-Up" had for everyone and everything in its wake, from its characters young and old, male and female, to the audience itself.

And there's more, involving a scene with a pregnant woman ready to give birth.  If you're curious, well, it's revolting and in poor taste.  "The Change-Up" isn't even train-wreck funny, which "Horrible Bosses" at least managed to be, and while the invited audience howled deliriously at this particular screening of "The Change-Up", they shrieked and recoiled at some of its most extreme off-putting stunts.  Utterly tasteless, the film's nasty, brutal tone never lets up until its final 20 minutes, when the cynical train rolls in to the station, taking its foot off the mean pedal to deliver phony Hallmark card honey tea and sympathy sentiments, manufactured for the audience's comfort.  This feeble attempt at softness -- which "The Change-Up" lacked the courage to display at the start -- comes far too late to rescue the film.  The abrupt change-up in tone only heightens this pathetic excuse for comedy.

Through both its lead male characters "The Change-Up" bares its fangs at the notion of family, tearing and battering it to pieces like an obliterated piñata.  You can feel the clichéd chainsaw as it cuts, and it is painful.  Mitch may want a family, but one led by his fantasy, an ultra-sexualized MILF/Madonna.  (By contrast if not contradiction, on the set of a "porn film" Mitch is confronted with a woman old enough to be his mother and told to do things to her he rather wouldn't.  It's ghastly, sickening stuff.) 

Jason Bateman as Dave, with two of his little friends as his sons in David Dobkin's "The Change-Up".  Universal

Mitch has a spiteful, loveless relationship with his father (Alan Arkin, a strangely remote presence here) who has married more than once, and, as Mitch implies, exclusively to women who don't speak English.  During a conversation with one woman, Mitch says, "I'm sorry, I didn't hear any of what you said."  The disdain for women increases tenfold, becoming progressively more disturbing, as is much of the film in general.  (Maybe my sense of humor dried up after "Little Fockers".)

Conceptually there's no frame of reference for "The Change-Up" to travel to once the grotesque specter hums with the pulse and force of a pneumatic drill.  The film's sole objective is to draw laughs from extreme discomfort.  Watching "The Change-Up" is akin to what Alex had to endure in "A Clockwork Orange", although here we can close our eyes.  Or leave.

"The Change-Up" is a monstrosity that restores the bromance genre to the sewer it commendably rose from with such comparatively decent films as "I Love You, Man", "The Hangover" and the independent comedy "Humpday", an infinitely better, more thought-provoking comedy than both "I Love You, Man" and "The Change-Up", if not as entertaining as "The Hangover". 

Written, ironically, by "Hangover" scribes Scott Moore and Jon Lucas, "The Change-Up" is a savage, mean-spirited assault on your "gag-reflex" or "yuck factor".  There's a profound lack of inventiveness at work in the way the characters are fashioned.  Recycling poop, spitting it back at the screen and down your throat, Mr. Dobkin's film supplants "Green Lantern", "Green Hornet" and "Just Go With It" as the year's worst.  It rivals last year's "Little Fockers" for levels of unfunny.  To use a legal term of art, "The Change-Up" is a film that shocks the conscience. 

The film's women are as transparent and plastic as the men.  Jamie (Leslie Mann, "Knocked Up", "Funny People") has been married to Dave for ten years.  They have three kids.  Jamie is a housewife who apparently never ever goes out, except in one scene.  She rarely ever touches or holds her kids.  The film shows some women who on a subtle level have as much contempt for children and family as the men do.  Dave's paralegal Sabrina (Olivia Wilde), for no earthly reason other than to satisfy male urges, becomes a plaything overnight, waiting to drop her drawers on cue. 

I wondered whether the Sabrina character was some kind of joke intended to point to "Sabrina", the Humphrey Bogart film also remade with Harrison Ford.  If so, I was too shallow to get the connection, to the extent one existed.  Speaking of "Sabrina", Dave and Mitch are close enough as friends to be brothers but are underdeveloped adults.

Leslie Mann as Jamie in David Dobkin's "The Change-Up".  Universal

The collaborators of this ugly, messy misanthropic cesspool should all be put on a WANTED poster, never to be allowed to make a movie like this again. 

Mr. Reynolds is not as entertaining as Nicolas Cage was in "Face/Off", a film which in the context of its genre is less brutal than "The Change-Up", but has five minutes as Dave where he was the only thing that prevented me from leaving the theater.  Had I blinked and thought of "Green Lantern", that would have been it.  Fin.

It's been a while since I felt the blood boil while watching a film but "The Change-Up" had me seeing red.  "The Change-Up" ranks with "Norbit" and "Sex And The City 2" and others as some of the trashiest filth-flarn-filth Hollywood has released in the last 20 years.

As the father of a baby daughter I guess I would take this film personally.  Had I not been a father however, I would have remained outraged.  "The Change-Up" left me furious for a couple of hours after I saw it.  I felt like Al Gore in 2004 when he shouted during a speaking engagement, "how dare they!"

Al Gore, to the best of my knowledge, is doing well for himself these days.  I'm not doing too bad myself.  I'll get over this hilariously bad film soon enough. 

With: Mircea Monroe, Gregory Itzin, Andrea Moore, Taaffe O'Connell, Craig Bierko, Lo Ming, Ned Schmidtke.

"The Change-Up" is rated R (for ridiculous) by the Motion Picture Association Of America for pervasive strong crude sexual content and language, some graphic nudity and drug use.  The film's running time is one hour and 42 minutes.

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