Change-Up, The: Dobkin’s Comedy, Starring Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds

The ad campaign for the new comedy, “The Change-Up,” goes out of its way to emphasize the credits of its filmmakers, and you can see why. It’s the best thing they have to promote a gimmicky, formulaic comedy that is not particularly witty or funny.  In many ways hails back to a cycle of movies in the 1980s about body-switching and identity-swapping.  I am talking about pictures like “Big,” “All of Me,” “Freaky Friday,” all of which were far better, because they didn’t rely on a single device.

Trailer: www.emanuellevy.com/?attachment_id=44121

Dobkin, the director of “The Change-Up,” has previously helmed New Line’s “The Wedding Crashers.” The writers, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, have formerly penned “The Hangover.”  Singly and jointly, these comedies ushered a new era of foul-mouthed, raunchy but still infantile R-rated comedies that became blockbusters.

The stars of the film, Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds, have been quite busy lately. Reynolds seems more ambitious than we had thought, aiming to prove that he has range that goes beyond his handsome (pretty) boy face; he made no less than three appearances this year alone in vastly different genres, including “Buried” and “The Green Lantern.”

This is the second on screen taming of Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman, who last appeared together in “Smokin’ Aces,” in 2006.

A one-note film, “The Change-Up” (bad, strange title) is gimmicky to a fault.  The narrative is more of a premise, which gets numerous mutations, than fully-developed tale.  Dragging on and on, the comedy is repetitive (especially in the second half), overextensing its welcome by at least 20 minutes or so; running time is 112 minutes!

Growing up together, Mitch (Reynolds) and Dave (Bateman) were inseparable best friends, but as the years have passed, they slowly drifted apart and now represent opposite types of men.

Dave is an overworked, overachiever lawyer, husband and father of three (including a set of infant twins), Mitch is a single, aspiring actor boy who has never matured into manhood.

The grass always seems greener from afar, which in this picture translates into “I wish I had your life.” Mitch perceives Dave as a man who has it all, successful career and fulfilling family life: beautiful wife Jamie (Lesley Mann), kids who adore him and a high-paying job at a prestigious law firm. To Dave, living Mitch’s stress-free existence without obligation or responsibility to anyone is a dream come true, especially the sexy women that he easily courts and beds. As a long-time married man, Dave glances with lustful looks at his legal associate, Sabrina (Olivia Wilde, who can also be seen this week as the femme fatale in “Cowboys and Aliens.” Never mind that he got so busy with his work that he forgot to pay attention and make love to his own wife.

Following a drunken night out together, Mitch’s and Dave’s worlds are turned upside down when they pee in a fountain, dominated by a statue of the Greek Goddess Metis. Conveniently, there’s lightning, power failure, and bingo: Our heroes wake up in each other’s bodies, including the discovery of new genitalia. (It’s the one aspect that the similarly themes and far superior “Face/Off,” with Nicolas Cage and John Travolta switching identities, disregarded).

As scripted, this shallow narrative suffers from one major problem. We can understand why Mitch wants to become Dave, because he lives an empty, directionless, silly life. It’s a marvel that Reynolds manages to give a decent performance, considering how unlikable and unsympathetic his character is. At one point, Mitch describes his weekly sexual encounter with one particular lady as a tigress (a tribute to the actual tigress in “The Hangover”?)

But we never comprehend why anyone as bright and smart as Dave would like to imitate the lifestyle of Mitch.

For a reel or so, we observe routine, crass set-pieces, as Dave and Mitch exercise their alternate lifestyle.

Predictably, despite the freedom from their normal routines and habits, the guys soon discover that each other’s lives are not as desirable as they had seemed before. With time running out, Mitch and Dave struggle to avoid destroying each other’s lives before they can find a way to get their old ones back.

Among the filmmaker’s cardinal sins is the total waste of Alan Arkin, one of the most reliable comedians for decades, in a thankless role as Mitch’ estranged father.

The saga is set in Atlanta, but the locations are so vague and generic that it could have been any other place.