Before establishing Jason Bateman’s character as an overachiever of Obama-like dimensions, the ridiculous new body-switch comedy The Change-Up feels the need to drop a giant clump of baby shit into his mouth. Before it can build Bateman up, it must first tear him down. It’s only the latest in an endless series of comic humiliations that have followed Bateman’s strange, welcome evolution from has-been ’80s-sitcom actor to peerless cinematic straight man. In The Change-Up, Bateman has a hot wife (Leslie Mann), beautiful family, great car, and amazing career, but he nevertheless exudes desperation. Metaphorically and otherwise, life has been shitting in the mouth of what should be a perfect existence—but in the not-so-grand tradition of body-switch comedies, one that could be so much more.
The Change-Up lazily typecasts Bateman as a type-A coffee achiever up for a big promotion at work and Ryan Reynolds as his unlikely best friend, a pot-smoking super-slacker actor leading a sweet life devoid of accomplishment or commitment, presumably at the expense of loving-but-distant father Alan Arkin. For reasons far too stupid to go into, the friends switch bodies and must learn how to navigate through the rocky currents of each other’s suspiciously eventful lives.
David Dobkin’s film has the faults of raucous recent scatological comedies like Bad Teacher, Horrible Bosses, and The Hangover Part II with none of their redeeming facets. It’s scattershot, sexist, and vulgar without being funny, a masturbatory fantasy for the Maxim set with a Manic Pixie Dream Girl of a love interest (Olivia Wilde) who’s all about baseball, whiskey, being one of the guys, and no-strings-attached sex. This is only a fantasy for boys: There’s a painful scene where Reynolds, trapped in Bateman’s body, callously tells Mann he isn’t attracted to her any more after she unleashes a particularly explosive fit of diarrhea. (The Change-Up has shit on its mind throughout.) It’s a jarringly brutal, unnecessary sequence in what’s supposed to be a light comedy. In moments like this, the film’s ugliness bubbles to the surface, unobscured by laughs, plausible human emotion, or sympathetic characters.