There are some movies that are so startlingly bad that you have to wonder if the stars involved were being blackmailed. It's hard to believe that Parental Guidance was someone's baby just like it's hard to believe that Bette Midler and Billy Crystal could be a couple or Marisa Tomei would be their daughter. You know you're in for a dud when the movie kicks off with jokes about Facebook — poking! — Angry Birds and hashtags. We get it. This old dude named Artie (Crystal) is being fired from his job as a minor league baseball announcer because he's old. He's "dead wood." And so is the movie he's in.
Artie and his wife Diane (Midler) rarely get a chance to see their daughter Alice (Tomei) or her family mostly because Artie is a self-centered jerk who refuses to honor his daughter and son-in-law's child-coddling ways. No one comes out of this looking good; writers Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse never miss an opportunity to poke fun of Alice and husband Phil's (Tom Everett Scott) tofu/sugar-free/computer-automated life while Artie is subject to countless scatological humiliations and testicle injuries. The only person who manages to come off okay is Midler as a saucy former weathergirl who deeply craves a loving relationship with her daughter and granddaughter.
People coming to see Parental Guidance expecting an iota of the humor or intelligence that Midler or Tomei have shown in previous film performances will be sorely disappointed. Obviously a PG-rated family movie is not the place for Midler's bawdier side — let's never forget she got her start singing in gay bathhouses God bless her — but she's done fine in family fare like Hocus Pocus. Still she fights the good fight against the flatness of her role and she and Crystal share a sort of sweet scene where they do a little song and dance to "Who Wrote the Book of Love?" Tomei brings a touch of warmth to her role and has a kind of sweet but bland connection with Everett Scott; their secret naughty joke where he pretends to be a British rock star named Nigel and she presumably is a groupie is one of the only colorful details here.
Crystal is still trying to dine out on movies like Analyze That and his voice acting work. (The less said about his Oscar hosting duties the better.) His humor hasn't aged well — it's subpar Borscht Belt — and he's not quite sharp enough to be a curmudgeon. It doesn't help that he's paired with a red-haired gremlin of a child who at one point climbs onto a half pipe and urinates down so that Tony Hawk's skateboard flies out from under him and lands the skater in a puddle of pee. (Seriously didn't those video games earn about a bazillion dollars? Why Tony why?) Ongoing jabs at parents today and their crazy "use your words!" methods aren't particularly insightful or relevant and even though Artie comes to realize that his methods weren't so hot either you just want to shake them all and tell him they really have nothing to complain about.
There is nothing to make you believe these people give a rat's ass about each other or more to the point why they should. Diane accuses Artie of making everything about himself but in essence the entire movie is about Artie and his learning curve which is a lot to ask of a character based on a shtick. None of the actors are really allowed to tap into what makes them successful performers and instead they're all stuck with being called Fartie Artie and a randomly appearing restaurateur whose specialty is pan-Asian health food and being really great friends with one of the kids' invisible kangaroo. He is played by and I am not kidding you Gedde Watanabe of Long Duk Dong infamy a character that remains one of the bigger smudges on John Hughes's legacy. It's good to know that Watanabe hasn't abandoned his wheelhouse of playing offensive Asian characters though.
There is almost nothing likable in Parental Guidance. You would be better off watching the fake fireplace channel for 12 hours straight than spending a minute with these people. Life is too short.
The first five minutes of The Change-Up—a horrifying look into the world of late-night baby care complete with one of the more grotesque poop-to-face shots ever captured on film—sums up the movie's bait-and-switch. In most comedies this scene would be the first step towards a descent into hell that only Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Adam Sandler are capable of realizing. In The Change-Up it's a sequence that sets the bar as low as artistically possible so stars Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds can obliterate expectations with equally raunchy shocking and hilarious comedic stylings. Simply put The Change-Up is the funniest movie of the year.
Bateman plays Dave Lockwood a run-of-the-mill lawyer who works too hard juggles his parenting duties and struggles to find time to tell his wife he loves her. Dave's best friend Mitch (Reynolds) couldn't be more of the opposite—sleeping all day and spending his conscious hours wooing sexual partners while stoned out of his mind. The two are polar opposites making them the perfect candidates for a little bit of switcheroo magic. One particularly devastating night of alcohol and lamenting life's woes ends with the duo taking a leak into a magical fountain (go with it). Fate of course intervenes and when Dave and Mitch wake up they find themselves trapped in the one another's bodies.
There's no denying The Change-Up follows the Freaky Friday formula—but that's not a fault. The logic is already established giving Bateman Reynolds and director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers) freedom to jump right into the crass humor hook. Bateman who's becoming a go-to straight man in Hollywood finds a refreshing opportunity in inhabiting Reynold's Mitch. The character's lack of self-censorship opens the floodgates for Bateman to poetically surface some of the English language's more horrendous sentences. A slang dictionary may be required to understand what bizarre body part synonyms are being dropped at rapid pace in this movie. Whether you comprehended them or not when they come out of Bateman's mouth they're priceless.
Same goes for Reynolds who escapes the box of fast-talking womanizer to play the uncomfortable family man. Judging an actor's versatility on a scene in which he's unwillingly placed at the center of a "lorno" (read: low-budget soft core pornography) may seem twisted but Reynolds sells it and makes it perfectly agonizing. Even obvious scenarios like "uh oh Dave's going to have to cheat on his wife in Mitch's body!" are twisted once twice three times over to pull the rug from under you.
The biggest surprise of The Change-Up is the movie's heart. Pummeling an audience with jokes is one thing but to sell genuine relationships underneath it makes it satisfying. The wavering friendship between the two lead knuckleheads is tangible and keeps an impossible plot device grounded while Leslie Mann (Knocked Up Funny People) as Dave's wife Jamie has her fair share of tender moments (as well as devilish laughs—there's a reason her husband Judd Apatow keeps casting her). In a movie that's constructed by textbook rules to have an ending that resonates with any sort of emotion is as surprising as watching a grown man toss a baby down next to a set of steak knives. Which coincidentally also happens in the movie.
In today's world where anything goes it's hard to whip up slapstick and one-liners that feel edgy and that leave your jaw on the floor. That's how The Change-Up hits—and it hits hard.