The Change-Up: Afraid of Apes

The Change-Up OnesheetMy wife is an apist. I hate to admit it, but she has something against apes. I wish I had known this before we got married. I’m so embarrassed, so ashamed. Well, maybe it isn’t all apes, but she has something against seeing any of the Planet of the Apes movies, so maybe she’s only against badass apes. When I strongly suggested that we see the new movie anyway, she reminded me of the most fearsome thing in the universe.

Sidenote to men: Don’t ever tell a loved one what terrifies you. No matter how much sympathy they muster in the moment, there will come a time when they use it against you, when they wheel it out like Hannibal Lecter on the dolly they keep for crazy people.

Every year my mother forced us to watch it. Even though we saw it so often, I don’t remember much about the movie. All I remember is sitting there on the floor in my pajamas, my toes clenching the carpeting, just waiting for the horror to begin, afraid to watch, afraid not to watch. I’m talking, of course, about the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz.

It’s a great movie, yes. You get no argument from me on that. But what terrified me—terrifies me to this day—are the witch’s furry minions. I admit it. They creep me out. Royally. Those little monkeys with the wings and the red vests or shrugs or whatever. Are they human? Animal? And the flying with the claws and the teeth! And what’s that they’re wearing on their heads? Looks like a cross between the crest on a centurion’s helmet, a Mohawk haircut, and a fez.

In short. I hate ‘em. I, too, am an apist, I guess. The Sleeper reminded me of my fear and wondered aloud whether I would “cry like a little baby” when the apes started leaping around and all-but-flying.

I had to admit I would.

Which is how we ended up at The ChangeUp. Roger Ebert claims that the movie’s dirty-minded, obscene, and low in every way. OK, he’s right. But The Change-Up is also a very funny movie and probably, with Bridesmaids, the best written comedy of the year so far. It’s a movie about why you shouldn’t pee in public places. Kind of.

At first you think it’s going to be little more than a variation on the old body-swap, a movie tradition that includes everything from Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Heaven Can Wait, Freaky Friday, Like Father Like Son, Goodbye Charlie, Trading Places, Dave, The Hot Chick, and even Face/Off and Mulholland Drive. Come to think of it, I suppose even Avatar and Being John Malkovich could be considered body-swap movies. And let’s not forget the novel that’s the granddaddy of the genre, Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper. But somehow, despite the number of times Hollywood has already made this movie, The Change-Up manages to bring something fresh to the table.

Ryan Reynolds plays the out-of-control Mitch Planko, a self-styled actor who works in “lorno” movies (light porno), but whose full-time profession is slacker. Jason Bateman plays Dave Lockwood, successful corporate lawyer in triple-pleated slacks, the team player who’s done everything right but who regrets missing out on “all the sex, drugs, and bad choices” of his best friend’s life.

Plot-wise, The Change-Up doesn’t surprise. Slacker switches bodies with Success, resulting in hilarious complications. Dear Abby, am I really cheating on my wife if I go to bed with a woman when I’m in another guy’s body? Answer: really? I mean, really? Do you really not know the answer to that!? By the end of the movie, each will become a wiser and more complete human being because of what each has experienced in the other’s body.

What’s different about The Change-Up is that the actors do more than mug for the camera and spout one-liners. They actually act. Reynolds and Bateman are very good together. Like the characters played by Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph in Bridesmaids, you believe Reynolds and Bateman as unlikely friends. (What other kind are there?) And the always excellent Leslie Mann is very funny as Dave’s wife. Anxiety builds up in her like an air raid siren getting ready to blow.

The Change-Up has a heavy dose of the inappropriate, the offensive, and the downright outrageous, which we haven’t really seen yet in a body-swap movie. Note, for instance, the Freudian lumber in the characters’ names. And what other movie can you name where the climax is triggered by the line “You ready to take a piss?” And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Like Bridesmaids, The Change-Up makes The Hangover II look as tame as a documentary on the principle exports of Thailand.

I can’t remember an audience laughing this much in a long time—not polite chuckles, but the sudden waterfall of spontaneous laughter. And despite spending the morning chasing down a runaway horse, The Sleeper slept nary a wink.

Apes may rise, but not, I’m afraid, in my future.

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Green Lantern: Bye Bye CGI

Green Lantern Onesheet  I’m not in the mood to jump on the bandwagon in criticizing Green Lantern. Because that would make me a hater. And besides, with production and marketing costs reported at about $400 million, and projected worldwide income at only about $270 million, it would be cruel to add more fuel to the fire. People might lose their jobs over this. Knowing Hollywood, though, they’ll just get promoted.

Instead, I want to think aloud about the state of that all-American classic—the effects-driven movie. After all, what’s wrong with Green Lantern? It’s got CGI up the wazoo. It’s got a hero in tights. It’s got likeable stars. It’s got a Syd Field written-by-the-numbers story. What could be the problem?

Maybe it’s not the movie’s fault. Maybe we’re suffering from a CGI overdose.

When you see a character in a movie fly, is it really possible any longer to be amazed and delighted? No, no, it isn’t. The same thing is true of movie cars that jump into the air when they explode, of buckling skyscrapers, of massive alien spaceships hovering over cities. These effects just aren’t enough anymore. It’s the same old thing. Once you’ve seen Earth annihilated over and over again, it’s hard to get worked up over the next great inter-galactic threat.

You couldn’t possibly be surprised by these effects unless you have the memory of a gnat.

Only a few effects-driven movies have had truly original and lasting images, ones that still strike us as amazing. Alien was new in several important ways: a creature whose looks and behavior we hadn’t seen before, a gritty vision of the future we hadn’t seen before, and an alien habitation that was both repulsive and fascinating. I’d put Predator in this group, too. Not a great movie, but a great creature. Blade Runner, of course, for its noirish vision of the future, an outgrowth of the fantastic Metropolis, whose effects still haven’t been matched—or totally understood—since it was released in 1927. And while we’re back in the old days, add 1902’s Voyage dans la Lune, whose effects fascinate in part because we know they weren’t all camera tricks. What else? 2001, whose eerie crispness has been copied so often that we forget its impact when it first came out. What about Star Wars, you ask? Dont’ ask. The first one looks dated. By the way, whoever thought those overweight, middle-aged extras looked like X-wing fighter pilots? And watching the more recent chapters is like watching a three-card monte game on a street corner. You know there’s a trick, but you just can’t see how it’s done. Terminator 2’s relentless quicksilver villain was a brand new creep-out. And I’d add Iron Man as the first superhero/CGI movie I can remember that was its own send-up of superhero/CGI movies.

I can remember when serious filmgoers moaned that, after Jaws, every move would be effects-driven. That came to pass so quickly and completely that we think a movie’s boring if it doesn’t have special effects.

But maybe now the wheel has turned. Maybe the failure of Green Lantern means we’re done with effects-driven superhero movies. For all the CGI we’re seeing in movies these days, we’re seeing precious little that’s new, that truly amazes. What we’re getting are copycat movies with interchangeable parts—same old heroes, villains, and effects with just a few cosmetic changes.

So let’s put down the matte painting, the miniatures, the keyboard, etc., huh, fellows? Let’s get back to real movies about real people.

There. I feel so much better for not making fun of Green Lantern.  I mean, I could have said that, back in the day, we had no idea that all it took to save the world was a mood ring and a lava lamp. And I could have said that Parallax, the bad guy, looks like that spud you left in the oven too long.

Parallax, Villain

And I could add that Muammar Qaddafi should learn a lesson from his brother, Hector Hammond, about the downside of evil. And what outrageous dermatology bills must these guys have?

Villains

But I feel better for not indulging myself.

Let me know about a truly amazing effects-driven movie that I’ve missed—one that adds something we truly haven’t seen before.