Vice Versa (1988) / Comedy-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: PG for some innuendo and language
Running time: 98 min.

Cast: Judge Reinhold, Fred Savage, Corinne Bohrer, Swoosie Kurtz, Jane Kaczmarek, David Proval, William Prince, Gloria Gifford, Jane Lynch
Director: Brian Gilbert
Screenplay: Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais (based on the book by F. Anstey)
Review published June 23, 2007

Although not officially credited, Vice Versa is based, rather loosely, on the novel by F. Antsey, written back in 1882.  Although the situations are quite different, the gist of the story remains the same:  a boy and his father, who each thinks the other has it easy, switch bodies and live each other's lives, gaining a better understanding of the difficulties of living in another person's shoes.  In the film world, it's been done in various forms over the years, with perhaps the most popular being Disney's 1976 version of Freaky Friday, which is the same story told with female protagonists. 

Around the time of the late 1980s, these young-old body-switch comedies were becoming quite plentiful, starting with 1984's After School Special, Summer Switch, 1987's Big (though no bodies are switched, it's very similar) and Like Father Like Son, and in 1988, there were three more notables, Vice Versa, 18 Again!, and TV's 14 Going on 30,  By comparison, though not as good as Big, this one is better than the rest of the pack in terms of sheer entertainment value.

the film starts with divorcee businessman Marshall Seymour (Reinhold, Beverly Hills Cop II) accidentally taking home an ancient Tibetan jeweled skull rumored to have magical properties.  As Marshall is inspecting the piece with his 11-year-old son, Charlie (Savage, The Princess Bride), the two make a wish that they should lead each other's lives.  They switch bodies instantly.  However, try as they might to switch back, they can't.  Now they are forced to literally lead each other's lives, as Charlie, in his father's body, must go to work in the dog-eat-dog corporate world, while Marshall heads back to the 6th grade to be tormented by bullies and dealing with uppity teachers.  Meanwhile, some smugglers looking to earn a healthy profit from the skull are out to get back their piece, by any means necessary.

Although the set-up is routine, and the chase climax with the smugglers pretty dismal as far as entertainment goes, it's in the more sizable middle parts, where the son and father switch bodies, that the film scores enough points to make for a worthwhile viewing.  It's not exactly the freshest premise, but game performances by Savage and Reinhold elevate the thin plotline into some choice slapstick and amusing comedy of errors. Reinhold probably acts a little too goofy to buy that a smart kid like Charlie is playing him, but he does manage to get some laughs out of the performance nonetheless.  The romantic aspects, trying to inject some heartfelt emotions in the film, make for a few awkward moments where a very confused Charlie is forced to confront sexuality a little earlier than he might otherwise.

Vice Versa is silly, somewhat predictable, and inherently derivative, but the stars make it work well enough while it plays.  So long as you're not expecting the sentimentality of Big or the ingenuity of Freaky Friday, it's a decent enough time-kill.

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo