In the gimmicky tradition of films like Dating the Enemy (1996) and Freaky Friday (2003), The Change-Up is a body switch comedy that follows two characters who wake up in the other person’s body.

For the premise to be interesting the characters need to have starkly different lives and personalities. This difference is neatly encapsulated in The Change-Up’s poster, which presents two images: Jason Bateman holding two restless babies and Ryan Reynolds sandwiched in between two sexy ladies. The family man and the bachelor.

Dave (Bateman) is a hard-working well-read lawyer with a wife and three kids. He “misses the sex and the drugs and the bad decisions.” Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) is a struggling stoner actor who has multiple friends with benefits and a messy anything-goes lifestyle. Each wishes they had the other’s life, and when they pee in a magic fountain – that’s not a euphemism – hey presto: their wish is granted.

In no time Mitch, now Dave, flubs an important meeting and Dave, now Mitch, finds himself starring in a soft porno in which he is required to push his thumb into areas where, as they say, the sun don’t shine.

The Change-Up spews from the lowbrow penmanship of The Hangover writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who passed on the opportunity to pen a sequel and chose instead to fondle the quirks of body switch shenanigans.

Why do writers, directors and stars keep returning to it? For starters the premise is an existential “what-if” pitch that, at least on a conceptual level, never gets boring. It’s fish out of water but the fish is internalised, with actors required to introduce a character then perform as if a different person — or a person of a different age (i.e. Tom Hanks in Big) — is trapped inside them.

There is a shrewdly played moment in The Change-Up in which Dave and Mitch attempt to convince Dave’s wife of their metamorphosis and ask her to fire questions only Dave could answer, only to be stumped by how little he knows about his wife.

For the most part, however, the writing is clumsy and dorky — like a middle aged father attempting to be hip — and while director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers) generates some laughs, they are few and far between. The jokes often rely on crass throwaway moments and the story’s dramatic pivots are awfully transparent.

Worse, the film’s  ending — predictably a riff on “grass is greener” and “be grateful with what you’ve got” — is cloyingly sentimental. It takes talent and chutzpah to convincingly mix toilet bowl humour with gushing emotions. Dobkin and his writers demonstrate one of those attributes a lot more than the other.

The Change-Up’s Australian theatrical release date: September 8, 2011.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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