The Change-Up was released on August 5th at a cost of 52 million (according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, and this is usually without the promotional budget added in). In 18 days it has brought in a little over 32 million domestically and about 33,000 (thirty-three thousand) in foreign sales. It is a huge bomb in an industry that is all about making money.
The problem lies with writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore who somehow thought that mixing Jackass with Driving Miss Daisy (OK, I’m being somewhat extreme so that you get the point) would bring in the laughs. Instead, the merit deep inside this movie – and believe it or not there’s much merit – gets eradicated by the “cringe” factor. Out-of-place moments of men urinating into a wishing well or a wife sitting on the toilet, or Ryan Reynolds sitting on a toilet masturbating, stuff that people go to the movies to not have to unexpectedly bump into, it really isn’t a good equation for a night of fun at the movies.
To make sexy actresses and actors do things to make them unsexy is like selling stale Wheaties. Where’s the upside? Having the talents of Craig Bierko totally wasted, or having a Jason Bateman be vulgar and unsexy in the shooting of a porn movie with some faded actress, it’s supposed to be funny, but falls worse than flat. It falls off the cliff.
Now onto the merit. The premise of Bateman and Reynolds switching roles is nothing new to Hollywood, and the onus falls more on the shoulders of the actors than the budget, which is great for the filmmaker as well as a superb way to exercise thespian range… so why take a solid plot – a good Angel’s food cake, and wreck it with sewer water?
There is terrific character build-up here, despite the utter lunacy forced into the plot. You’ve seen similar ideas play out well – All of Me with Lily Tomlin and Steve Martin, Mel Gibson with voices in his head for the better part of What Women Want, these absurd ideas make people think…in a good way. Of course having Carl Reiner direct (All of Me) is certainly an indicator that you’re going to have something of value. So to take the wrecking ball to it is illogical, uncomfortable, and the morality play that is supposed to be front and center takes a back seat. What is afforded the actors, the opportunity to have sex with themselves by using someone else’s body (all due respect Whoopi Goldberg but Patrick Swayze must’ve had to do some real fantasizing to get a fat psychic to turn into Demi Moore in Ghost), also is discarded for the joke, Ryan Reynolds shaving Jason Bateman’s genitals in the shower (or is it Jason Bateman shaving Ryan Reynolds in the shower? it gets so confusing) because, well, that’s what that personality does when he’s in his own body. It really is a mind trip, but not in a good way.
But the morality play was left out in the rain. As Evangelist Kathryn Kuhlman would say – we see our own flaws in other people – well, that’s what Reynolds and Bateman as Mitch Planko and Dave Lockwood, respectively, get to see – each other’s flaws, from the inside. But as best friends who have an age difference (Bateman being 7 years Reynolds’ senior in real life, it’s a wider berth in this film as Bateman exchanges his looks for the appearance of a more mature middle-aged man) , well, they get to see how obnoxious each other is with his own idiosyncracies.
It’s the cringe factor that wrecks the tear-jerker aspects of this film. Think about it, when the gorgeous Lesley Mann plays Bateman’s wife to a t, her needs not being met, the fact that she’s a good mother raising their kids, the empathy the audience has for her gets pushed aside for Bateman stuck in Ryan Reynolds’ body whacking off in the bathroom. It’s unsexy, it’s revolting, and the film had real merit that gets flushed as clearly as the box office that never developed for this uneven and failed enterprise.
If the producers had any brains they’d take all the actors involved, clean up the unnecessary dirty words and over-the-top sex jokes that fall flat, and re-cut scenes and re-edit and re-release to save this turkey. It’s a potentially great film that you can’t sit through for the good parts because of all the bad parts. What a waste.
Ashton Kutcher’s No Strings Attached succeeded at the box office, despite the overuse of foul language and moronic sexual situations, because the acting overcame the script problems and the modest budget eventually brought in six times the initial investment. The actors in the Change Up do their damndest with very little. And there’s enough blame to go around for director David Dobkin and writers Lucas and Moore. They snatched defeat right out of the jaws of victory. Re-film and re-edit this thing before it is too late.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He was a film critic for Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com and produces and hosts Visual Radio. Visual Radio is a fifteen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed John Lennon’s Uncle Charlie, Margaret Cho, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere, Marty Balin, Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.