Tag Archives: C

THE CHANGE-UP

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C

This is a particularly gruesome example of the sort of raunchy R-rated comedy that’s proliferated in Hollywood since the success of the Apatow pictures and “The Hangover.” The third word in the script is our old friend beginning with “f,” which reappears like a motif through the rest of the picture. That’s followed almost immediately by the site of an infant banging his head violently against his crib, and a gross poop gag featuring the kid and his dad. The plot kicks in with a prolonged scene of public urination, and before we’re finally released from the auditorium there are jokes involving porn movies, sex with highly pregnant women and even—if you can believe it—child endangerment. It’s as though scripters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore were determined to amp up the coarseness and vulgarity with each change of scene. And what’s even more depressing is that audiences actually laugh at this stuff.

The premise of “The Change-Up” is basically a retread of “Freaky Friday” and its many successors. Two unlikely best buds—hard-working corporate lawyer and dedicated husband/father Dave Lockwood (Jason Bateman) and overage slacker/womanizer Mitch Planko (Ryan Reynolds)—finish off a boy’s night out by relieving themselves in a public fountain and saying how much each envies the other’s life. Next morning they’ve been magically transposed into each other’s bodies.

So Mitch must step into Dave’s shoes to finish the big merger on which his promotion depends while learning to be a husband (to wife Jamie, played by Leslie Mann) and father, while Dave has to take over Mitch’s gig in the adult-film business, and cater to his many female callers. Added wrinkles concern Mitch’s estranged father (Alan Arkin), who’s getting remarried and wants his son to attend the ceremony, and Dave’s sexy co-worker Sabrina (Olivia Wilde), who’s caught the married man’s eye despite his commitment to fidelity. Naturally in the end both guys realize what’s really important in life and seek to change themselves back by urinating again in that magical fountain (which, in a particularly goofy plot device, has been disassembled and transported from the park indoors to a busy mall).

Though theoretically the movie’s supposed to be a balanced farce in which both stars have equal time, the fact of the matter is that the onus of carrying it falls to Bateman, who has the comic chops that bland Reynolds frankly lacks but can’t do much with such feeble material. Nobody else has much to do, Mann basically called upon to affect aghast reaction shots (cueing viewers, perhaps, to a similar reaction) and Wilde to look striking, which she accomplishes with ease. As for Arkin, he hasn’t appeared so bored since “Firewall,” and David Dobkin’s direction is limp.

“The Change-Up” is set in Atlanta, but most of it appears to have been shot on drearily anonymous California sound stages. Still, Eric Edwards’ cinematography is fine, in a straightforwardly sitcom way, and the other technical credits are pro.

It’s nice to see Jason Bateman’s career take off again after “Juno.” He’s an adept light comedian, and could be great fun to watch in smart, sophisticated fare. But instead he’s opted for dumb, scummy shlock like “Horrible Bosses” and this. A lead role just isn’t worth slumming.

ATTACK THE BLOCK

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Joe Cornish has obviously studied a lot of low-budget action movies—pictures like John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13” and Walter Hill’s “The Warriors,” in which characters that start out as criminal types turn out to be heroes—and absorbed their lessons. I suspect he’s also seen “Critters,” since the furry aliens he’s added to the mix resemble them, except that they’re more menacing with their glowing sea-blue teeth. The result is a debut feature that has energy and some laughs, but in the end suffers from a familiar threadbare quality.

The hero of the piece, or antihero if you prefer, is Moses (John Boyega), the brooding leader of a pack of London teen toughs that also includes Pest (Alex Esmail), Dennis (Franz Drameh), Jerome (Leeon Jones) and Biggz (Simon Howard). After robbing Sam (Jodie Whittaker), a pretty young nurse, at knifepoint as she walks home, the gang kills a strange canine-like creature that crashes into a car in a space-pod and scampers away; they carry off the remains as a trophy that might be worth something.

But that’s only the beginning of the alien invasion. Soon hordes of other little ships are crashing in the vicinity, disgorging a troupe of more ferocious beasties that take aim on our punk band. They’re gone back to their high-rise public-housing building, where they confer with a friend, scruffy pot dealer Ron (Nick Frost), and flamboyant local drug kingpin Hi-Hatz (Jumayn Hunter). As they alternately run from and try to counterattack against the aliens and protect their “block” (with some of them falling in the process), other residents get involved—three girls and a couple of tykes who want to join the fray armed with water guns and firecrackers. But the most notable hanger-on is Brewis (Luke Treadaway), a customer of Ron’s who’s a nervous geek but a wit and font of information (he’s the one who offers a suggestion about the reasons behind the aliens’ actions that proves the key to defeating them).

Cornish is reasonably adept at staging the frequent chases and brawls, though he and his cinematographer Tom Townend and editor Jonathan Amos can’t conceal the budgetary limitations: the images are sometimes murky and the action not always ideally clear. Boyega makes a rather stiff, inexpressive lead, though that might have been intended as a homage to similarly laconic heroes of the past, and Whittaker isn’t a terribly engaging romantic interest for him. But Esmail picks up the slack as motormouth Pest, and Treadaway handles the best of Cornish’s lines with relish. Frost makes an amiably scruffy pothead, but Hunter chews the scenery a bit too enthusiastically as his boss. As for the music score, the three composers—Steven Price, Felix Buxton and Simon Ratcliffe—appear to be enamoured with early Carpenter, too.

“Attack the Block” is a promising first effort, and if there were still a place for double bills or drive-in fodder, it would be a perfect fit for such venues. But it lacks the inventiveness and panache that turned “District 9,” for example, into a cult favorite and monster hit.