Vice Versa (1988)

“We’ve been offered very favorable interest rates from King Kong.”

Justin’s rating: Does it count if I switched bodies with a bulldog back in 2007 and spent a memorable weekend sniffing piles of poo?

Justin’s review: There are some really weird sub-genres in film that you wouldn’t think would be a thing, but it turns out that these strange plots pop up all over the place. I’m not exactly sure why body-swapping became en vogue, but what Freaky Friday brought in 1976 really boomed in the ’80s as a frequent go-to idea for comedy. Like Father Like Son and 18 Again both had some fun with the premise of two people switching bodies, but Vice Versa became the most well-known during that era. It probably helped that Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage’s names came up in the opening credits, because those two were power-hitters at the time.

Somewhat estranged from his son due to a divorce, Marshall (Reinhold) is shown to be one of those too-busy-for-family execs that Hollywood likes to take down a peg or two with a good dose of humility. Said humility comes in the form of an ancient Thailand trophy that has the ability to swap the minds of any two people who hold it at the same time. And wouldn’t you know that Charlie (Savage) and Marshall end up grabbing it during the one week that the son is sent off to live with his dad?

So now, horror of horrors, Charlie has to learn what it’s like to live as an adult while Marshall heads back to school, all while growing together through the mutual weirdness of the situation. There are also some art thieves who are trying to steal the trophy, lending some suspense as to whether this body-swapping situation remains permanent. If it does, then I don’t know who would have it worse — Charlie, who would effectively lose years of his life becoming a middle-aged adult, or Marshall, who would have to live under the rule of his ex-wife as her “son.”

Before that happens, we have a lot of scenes of the two characters trying their best to act like their counterparts. Out of the two, Reinhold is clearly having a better time with it, channeling his inner child to play the drums in a department store, tote his pet frog all around the place, and generally find the adult world a silly place to be. Savage is perfectly cast as a 40-year-old in a kid’s body, because I think he came out of his mother’s womb an older guy anyway. I only half-believe his act, even so, because it’s almost never believable when you put grown-ups’ words in the mouth of a kid, even a kid who came from the Wonder Years.

The longer this plot goes on, the more disturbing it gets, especially when the writers keep throwing young-Charlie-in-adult-Marshall’s-body together with adult Marshall’s girlfriend. The movie flirts with the same icky, jailbait lines that Big did, only without Tom Hanks’ charm to take the edge off. When you have a kid outright proposing to an adult woman, perhaps it’s time to wrap things up and get everyone back in their own bodies.

Vice Versa isn’t terrible by any stretch, but the reason it doesn’t have the staying power of — again — Big, is that it’s really not that funny or memorable. There aren’t any of those super-quotable lines or breakout scenes that you recall with friends afterward. So it’s at best a novelty and at worst a missed opportunity with a lot of “hey, that’s the mom from Malcolm in the Middle!” recognitions.

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