Is it just me, or is “The Hangover” feeling more and more like a fluke with every fleeting weekend in which an R-rated comedy is released? When the brilliantly crude and crass effort was released in the summer of 2009, I wonder if the stars, the writers or even director Todd Phillips knew they had a massive hit on their hands while making it. Needless to say, the film made box-office records, became an instant classic and destroyed whatever hype there was for its weekend competitor, “Land Of The Lost” (that’s a triple-win!). And ever since that film’s strong critical and financial success, nearly every other comedy has been riding on its coattails in hopes of nabbing a piece of the “Hangover” pie. I don’t blame them. After all, simply saying “written by a guy who stumbled into the lavatory adjacent to the room where “THE HANGOVER” was conceived” would probably bring in a strong crowd.
I, for one, liked Phillips’ follow-up movie, “Due Date,” while most other critics panned it. But everyone should know from watching “The Hangover Part II” that too much of a good thing can wind up being the EXACT SAME FREAKING MOVIE AS LAST TIME. But next in line “from the writers of ‘The Hangover,’” we get “The Change-Up,” an utterly cringe-worthy “comedy” which I think may be far worse than the former.
Employing the familiar body switching plot mechanism made famous in movies like “Freaky Friday” and “Big,” the two unwitting subjects for this enigmatic phenomenon are long-time friends Dave (Jason Bateman) and Mitch (Ryan Reynolds). Dave lives the more traditional lifestyle: he is married, has three children and works a white-collar job. Mitch, on the other hand, is a single slacker who works as a part-time actor on an optimistic day. The two share their stories over several drinks and a ball game in a local bar one night, but it is not until they both urinate into a public fountain when they utter the damning words, “I wish I had your life.” Little did they know that the fountain has godlike powers, such as the ability to grant their wish and also cause a city-wide power surge (not in that order).
The next morning, Dave wakes up in Mitch’s body and Mitch wakes up in Dave’s. And to their dismay, the mystical wish fountain is taken from its original spot and is set for relocation within the span of “three days and three weeks”. So it looks as though the two numbskulls are stuck in each others bodies for an indefinite period of time. Mitch will have to get a taste of the work-centric life of a family man while Dave is free to re-experience the pleasures of bachelorhood. But there is always that ubiquitous quandary of whether or not he is technically cheating on his wife.
Oh, and Olivia Wilde plays a young assistant named Sabrina who works with Dave. As always, Wilde is as stunningly beautiful as ever, but she is given very little to do here and does not really come into the big picture until the final third when she gets set up on a date with Mitch (really Dave). Even in her brief early scenes, she has kind of an uncertain look on her face. I would too if my boss, Jason Bateman, were making obscene comments that legitimately qualify as sexual harassment in the workplace.
The first half of the film is a total mess right off the bat, beginning suitably (or is it unsuitably?) with an unsavory projectile baby defecation gag. As for the humor proceeding that splendidly witty (sarcasm) opening scene, it gives the irksome impression of the belligerent young teenager who tries to act mature by being as vulgar as humanly possible. Four-to-twelve letter words are uttered as if the actors are getting paid five extra bucks for every profanity that moves past their lips. As I mentioned before in some other review, language can be an effective comedic tool when there is some sort of significant context. Just look at the Judd Apatow movies, such as “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up” or “Superbad.” Even the recent dark comedy “Horrible Bosses” showed that it could handle its raunch effortlessly. Here, the f-words are just there to be there…and that’s it.
Effective comedy all rests on the setup, timing and delivery, which all feel like foreign concepts to this film. The premise has already been done before, but that would be a forgivable offense if the movie were actually funny. The characters are destructively stupid human beings whose social conduct and discipline are in competition with six-year-olds (and THAT is an insult to six-year-olds). I cannot say that there is not a setup for the punchlines, but they are all the same: how would the foul-mouthed Mitch react in one of Dave’s business meetings? In what way would Dave respond to Mitch’s “acting career?” What happens if Dave’s wife (Leslie Mann) wants to have sex while Mitch is still in Dave’s body? And really, the exploitation of sex serves no purpose other than to demean both genders in equal measure.
Admittedly, the absolute discomfort I had from watching started to wane in the second half if only because I did not feel like I was being mercilessly beaten over my head with the film’s R rating. But the strange thing I thought was the way that the movie attempts to bring in a sense of sentimentality toward the end when every moment leading up to the climax proved to be outright shallow and puerile. In turn, the message in the end comes off very hokey and insincere. Not that the people enjoying the film up to that point will even care about a message of any kind, but still.
About a week and a half ago, I tweeted a message after watching the 1995 comedy “Swingers” in which I rhetorically asked why guy comedies are never made like this anymore. While that movie itself isn’t close to perfect, the characters in it are not incompetent dolts with serious social and psychological problems. They didn’t need to be in order for the audience to like them. They were capable and funny individuals with real problems that viewers (particularly males) could relate to in some way, and if you were lucky, you could even learn from their predicaments.
But even without any of these aspects going for it, ANY raunchy comedy can be done right with the proper resources at hand. “The Change-Up” is a gratuitous example of how the genre can easily be done wrong. And it disappoints me that this further illustrates the fact that gross-out, scatological, shock value humor has become the rule to making the profitable comedy and not the exception. In other words, it is simply not a good sign when I get more laughs out of the trailer than I get from the final product.
Note: The body switch aspect makes it VERY hard to write this review coherently.