When the comedy “Any Wednesday” opened on Broadway in 1964 Walter Kerr reviewed a then-unknown Gene Hackman and noted, memorably, the actor’s “wonderfully light-footed habit of stepping off a joke before it begins to complain.” Isn’t that an exquisite description of an actor’s timing and demeanor?
Now, flash forward to 2011 and the hard-R-rated body-switching comedy “The Change-Up,” which has nothing to do with “Any Wednesday.” The movie, directed by “Wedding Crashers” alum David Dobkin, isn’t very good. A lot of it, in fact, is hacky and repellent. But the leads — playing a workaholic lawyer and his longtime bongaholic Lothario buddy, respectively — are taken care of by Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds and while neither actor may be the next Gene Hackman, Bateman’s and Reynolds’ shared interest and self-effacing skill in finding the correct internal rhythm of a scene makes “The Change-Up” tolerable.
Urinating in a fountain one drunken evening in downtown Atlanta (whatever, it’s not worth the sentence to explain it), the friends played by top-billed Reynolds and Bateman utter “I wish I had your life!” in the same instant, which is enough, apparently, at least in Atlanta, to launch a fantasy wherein Reynolds’ foul-mouthed would-be actor switches bodies with Bateman’s uptight, joyless family man. Leslie Mann is the neglected wife who wonders what’s up with her husband’s newly crass behavior; Olivia Wilde, currently in “Cowboys & Aliens,” plays Bateman’s legal colleague, who is everything (dishy, available, a Braves fan, etc.) except interesting.
Some comedies have the knack for affrontery and shock value; “The Change-Up,” written by the “Hangover” team of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, merely has the will to offend, with scenes such as Bateman-in-Reynolds being forced to perform in a “light porno” project. More off-putting is the digitally juiced sight gag of an infant boy banging his head against his crib, over and over and over and over. And over.
Also, does “The Change-Up” set some sort of record for both digitally and prosthetically enhanced breasts? If so, does that distinction make the movie any funnier?
No, but the cast does what it can. Bateman (he of the vaguely preoccupied air, always) and Reynolds (a choirboy with devil’s horns) hot-foot every exchange so that there’s moment-to-moment pace, at least, in this conceptually lazy film’s favor.