Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 29, 2004)
Never let it be said that Hollywood won’t beat a concept to death. 12 years after the original Freaky Friday popularized the concept of the “body-swapping” flick, the studios produced three different movies that featured kids in adult bodies: Big with Tom Hanks, 18 Again with George Burns, and Vice Versa with Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage. And 1988 wasn’t the end of the theme, as we’re getting a new spate of these sorts of flicks. 2003 saw a remake of Freaky Friday, while the current 13 Going on 30 redoes Big.
The latter remains the most artistically successful of the bunch, though the 2003 Friday offers a reasonably fun piece of work. I’ve not seen the original in such a long time that I won’t judge it, and I can’t comment on either 18 Again or 30. Versa does little more than remake Friday with males instead of females and presents a flat and uninspired experience.
After a quick prologue in which we see thieves steal an unusual artifact from a Tibetan locale, we jump to Chicago and meet department store executive Marshall Seymour (Reinhold). A hard-edged workaholic, he doesn’t seem to have time for his 11-year-old son Charlie (Savage). He makes promises he doesn’t fulfill, such as when he misses Charlie’s middle school talent show performance because of work issues.
Marshall takes a business trip to Thailand with his girlfriend/co-worker Sam (Corrine Bohrer). At the same time, we see smuggler Turk (David Proval) get the Tibetan artifact from Kwo (James Hong). When Marshall tries to send back a ceramic work that they’ll sell in mass quantities, it gets traded with the artifact and he gets it. Turk’s boss Lillian Brookmeyer (Swoosie Kurtz) contacts Marshall and will go to make the trade with him.
Marshall’s ex-wife Robyn (Jane Kaczmarek) goes away for a week so Marshall needs to care for Charlie. This doesn’t go well and the two bicker. Eventually the pair wish they could change places as they hold the idol, and they switch bodies. When they come to terms with this, little Marshall goes to school while big Charlie goes to the office against his dad’s orders. Big Charlie has run-in with Lillian since he doesn’t know what she wants, and matters complicate from there. Both guys try to deal with each other’s lives while they also deal with Lillian and Turk.
Theoretically, much hilarity ensues. But that’s only in theory, as Versa offers a relentlessly drab flick. With all the possibilities inherent in the concept, it prefers to explore only the most banal ones. Rather than take a clever look at things and try to approach the dimensions of the experience ala Big, this movie gets into slapstick and obvious goofiness. None of this works, as the flick remains dull and without spark.
The relentlessly predictable nature of the story doesn’t help. Granted, most of these sorts of films take the same approach: the two sides that don’t understand each other learn to appreciate their differing emotions. They grow and come to know better how to deal with each other.
That’s fine, but the way Versa plods along through its themes gets tiresome. I get the impression the filmmakers knew this, so they added the silly subplot with the smugglers. This story doesn’t add anything to the flick and just becomes a tedious distraction at times.
For the most part, the performances don’t help. Actually, Savage does reasonably well as the little Marshall. He brings a fairly solid sense of gravity and personality to the role, though it helps that Reinhold sets up Marshall as a one-dimensional jerk; Savage only needs to be selfish and obnoxious for a while.
On the other hand, Reinhold seems wrong for both parts. He normally presents a naturally likable personality, so it seems hard to take him as a self-centered prick. He appears better suited for big Charlie, but that performance flops as well. He portrays Charlie more as a stoner moron than as a kid, and he never even slightly resembles the character demonstrated by Savage in the early parts of the film.
Vice Versa presents a simple concept and goes nowhere with it. The movie focuses on predictable banalities and fails to deliver any laughs or charm. It’s a dull dud.