Thursday 23 November 2017

Changing up a gear in impure toilet humour


Padraic McKiernan and Aine O'Connor

The Change-Up

Cert 16

Talk about putting the gag into gag reflex. With more poop and pee jokes than you can shake a nappy at (and I'm talking literally), it's fair to say that David Dobkin-directed comedy The Change-Up succeeds in breaking new ground, if only in terms of its capacity to expand the concept of what constitutes toilet humour.

Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds take the central roles as lifelong buddies with polar-opposite personalities and profiles. David Lockwood (Bateman) is a high-flying lawyer who dreams of a life free of the domestic responsibilities that come with his married-with-children status.

He missed out on the "sex, drugs and bad choices phase", so it's easy to see why he might envy the lifestyle enjoyed by his man-child buddy Mitch Planko (Reynolds).

Mitch may be a monument to fecklessness and a terminal, if likeable, morality vacuum -- but his babe-magnet capability has Bateman's character dreaming of what might have been, if only...

The latter gets the chance to test the greenness of his friend's faraway hills when the intervention of a magic fountain (don't ask) results in these two amigos undergoing a life swap that sees them exchanging their physical bodies. Naturally, it isn't that long before life lessons of the-be-careful-what-you-wish-for variety are being learnt.

The fact that this is a family newspaper precludes me from going into the gruesome details but suffice to say the director adopts a "no orifice left behind" policy in terms of the gross-out humour.

I must stress that The Change-Up is not for you if words like "objectionable" figure prominently in your vocabulary -- but there are guilty laughs to be had and accomplished comic performances from the two leads almost distract from the reality that this is a hit-and-miss-by-a-mile affair.

In the supporting roles, Olivia Wilde is hot as Dave's sexy legal associate, Sabrina, and Alan Arkin is also noteworthy as Mitch's estranged father. However, lame attempts towards the end of the film to mix the profane with the profound are the only aspect of this comedy cul-de-sac that can be considered truly laughable.

Now showing nationwide

30 Minutes or Less

Cert 15A

THE lowest common denominator gets dusted down once again courtesy of screwball comedy, 30 Minutes or Less. Featuring a quality cast that includes The Social Network's Jesse Eisenberg and directed by Zombieland's Ruben Fleischer, this engaging caper targets the funny bones of those who place a premium on low-brow, or indeed, no-brow laughs.

Eisenberg takes the central role as lovable loser Nick, a pizza-delivery driver whose life is about to take a turn for the potentially explosive. A routine call-out sees him being drawn into the dastardly designs of Dumb and Dumber-type twosome, Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson). Dwayne has big ambitions and dreams of opening an erotic tanning salon/brothel -- but in order to make his dreams a reality he needs to get his hands on $100,000.

A bank heist seems the best option. Risk-averse to bank-robbing himself, Dwayne makes Nick an offer he can't refuse. The "can't refuse" bit comes as a result of the explosive vest Dwayne and his buddy have attached to this reluctant bank robber. If Nick doesn't pull off the heist within a pre-arranged timescale, the vest gets detonated and Nick is destined for the stratosphere.

So much for the explosive set-up, but... eh, is it a blast?

Well, not exactly.

Strong performances together with a punchy script fail to compensate for a spectacle that hits a number of discordant notes. I mean, knockabout comedy interspersed with scenes of human immolation?

The reality that 30 Minutes or Less mirrors the circumstances of an actual event that ended tragically also accentuates an underlying, jarring tone.

Eisenberg delivers a strong turn in the central role while Aziz Ansari convinces in a polished comic cameo as Nick's partner in crime. As chief hoodlum, McBride also has his moments but doesn't do enough to suggest he's ready to move beyond his current status as a poor man's Will Ferrell. Fleicher's directorial touch is an assured one but, overall, proceedings never move beyond the mildly amusing.

Now showing nationwide

Page One: Story of the NY Times

IFI Film Club

Even with exclusive access to a mythical meeting where the front page of the New York Times is decided, the premise, an entire film about that paper, wasn't especially thrilling.

There was also the risk that this would be self-regarding and/or self-congratulatory -- after all, journalism is an ego-driven business. (The September Issue, the film about Vogue magazine, showed how lost media outlets can become in their own digestive tracts.)

The strength of Page One, however, is that it pitches the Grey Lady precisely in the reality it now inhabits. Director Andrew Rossi manages to establish the stature of the New York Times, and by focusing on its relatively recent media desk, just what it is up against. The collapse in newspaper advertising has had a devastating effect on the print media, especially in North America, and the internet has changed methods and interpretations, speed and perceived need around information delivery.

The NY Times media desk staples, David Carr and Bruce Headlam, represent the old media, while blogger turned desk jockey Brian Stelter represents the new face of news (with every conceivable inlet and outlet online beside him).

Filmed in 2009 and 2010, it covers both the emergence into the mainstream of Wikileaks and the financial crisis that engulfed the US newspaper group.

However, it doesn't become a debate about values but rather a look at the future, and meaning of news: soundbite versus carefully slogged-over feature, public service versus business.

What could have been a must-view for media students alone is in fact a much more broadly interesting look at how the world informs itself. David Carr, in particular, weaves a charismatic path throughout the film, making it warm and sometimes funny.

Now showing at the IFI

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