There is really nothing that new in the premise for the new Ryan Reynolds, Jason Bateman comedy The Change-Up. Two people who envy each other’s lives magical swap positions and in the course of their misadventures gain a better appreciation for their own life. It’s a magical fantasy version of “The Prince And The Pauper” that’s been done previously as Freaky Friday (1976), Like Father, Like Son (1987), 18 Again! (1988), Freak Friday again (2003) and most recently 17 Again (2009). So, yeah, we’ve seen this basic story before.
That’s not to say that The Change-Up is not worth seeing. Even a well-worn premise can still entertain if executed well and The Change-Up is a solidly written, laugh-out-loud film that nicely showcases the chops of stars Reynolds and Bateman.
Bateman is Dave, a lawyer working hard to make partner at his firm while juggling the responsibilities involved with being a father of three young children. Dave’s best friend Mitch’s life is pretty much the polar opposite when it comes to stress. Allegedly a struggling actor, Mitch’s father basically supports him while he spends his time smoking pot between occasional roles in soft-core “Skinamax” films. Dave envies Mitch’s seemingly trouble-free way of life, while Mitch secret longs for the stability of Dave’s family and job.
Mitch takes Dave on a rare night out to the bar to watch a baseball game and afterwards the slightly inebriated pair find themselves urinating into a park fountain. Unbeknownst to them that this is one of those pesky public park fountains with magical powers, the pair simultaneously state that they wish they had each other’s life and wake up the next morning swapped into each other’s bodies. While they envied each other’s lives, it turns out that when they get the chance to live like the other, they are spectacularly bad at it. Realizing that perhaps they should change back they head back to the fountain, only to find that it has been removed for renovation. When they try to prove what has happened to Dave’s wife, she doesn’t believe them when Dave-in-Mitch’s body fails to answer three simple questions about her that he should know. (Couples should really have a code word for situations like these.)
The film hits the predictable plot points of Mitch and Dave trying to keep from screwing up the other’s life while waiting to change back. There are a lot of fish-out-of-water jokes as Mitch struggles with Dave’s responsibilities as a father and as an attorney and Dave tries to adapt to Mitch’s more carefree lifestyle. And, of course, their awkwardness in their new-found roles yields unexpected positive results before the inevitable appreciation of their own lives and the switch back. These aren’t spoilers because we’ve seen this all before. But it is still a well constructed screenplay and the jokes are funny enough to cover for the familiarity. About the only place that the film stumbles is when it forgets that it has a subplot involving Mitch’s dad (Alan Arkin).
In addition to the solid writing, much of the film hangs on the acting chops of Reynolds and Bateman and their ability to inhabit each other’s characters for most of the film. They only get a few quick scenes to define their characters before handing them off to the other for a majority of the film. In many ways, it allows the actors to switch their usual screen personas with Bateman shedding the up-tightness he has exhibited in previous roles while Reynolds only gets to be his usual laid back and hedonistic screen self for the film’s opening moments.
The Change Up isn’t going to reinvent the comedy wheel. It doesn’t set out to do anything more than offer a laugh-filled two hours or so and in that it succeeds.