Saturday, August 6, 2011

Time to change things up

Last August, Jason Bateman was in a movie called The Switch. This August, he's in a movie called The Change-Up.

Jason, how much harder must the cinematic universe work to tell you it's time to take a new path?

Let me start by saying I'm a huge Jason Bateman fan. In fact, I bet I've liked him a lot longer than you have. That is, unless you were also obsessed with the show It's Your Move, which ran on TV from 1984-1985 and co-starred Norman Lear. It was the sitcom Bateman was given after his funny supporting gig on Silver Spoons earned him buzz, and it way predates The Hogan Family.

So I was as happy as anyone to see him return to prominence, after a decade basically out of the spotlight, in Arrested Development. Since then, he's parlayed his Arrested success into a smart and fun movie career, particularly in such films as Juno and Extract.

However, lately it's starting to seem like Jason Bateman is beginning to wear out his welcome again. It's not that the profile of his work has diminished -- he still seems pretty bankable as a likable comic underdog. It's that he's gotten ... dare I say it? Lazy.

The comedies are sort of starting to come off the assembly line for Bateman: Couples Retreat. The Switch. Horrible Bosses. And now The Change-Up.

Like most phenomena I try to describe on this blog, it's more of a feeling I get than something I can absolutely prove -- a sense of a downward trend, like the type people in the stock market try to predict in order to avoid losing their life savings. Because those movies are not all bad. In fact, I can't say for sure that any of them are bad. Couples Retreat is okay, The Switch was pretty likable, and I haven't seen either of his 2011 releases, in part because The Change-Up is only just coming out today. (He was also in Paul this year, but that doesn't seem to fit the trend as much. You can include it if you're so inclined.)

Really, I don't know what I'm expecting from him. If I'm expecting him to pick up a job as a strung-out heroin addict, I may be deluding myself. It's not a knock against him, but he may not be capable of that, nor should he worry about it if he isn't. That kind of thing is not for everybody.

But I do remember thinking that the essentially comedic role in Juno was all the more memorable because it also showcased a certain melancholy, which Bateman hadn't previously proven he could generate. Jason Reitman had him back for his next movie, but Bateman's role in Up in the Air was essentially a cameo.

So I guess you could say I'm really just stuck on the Bateman I saw in Juno -- a guy who could sniff out a smart indie property with which to involve himself. Even though that was there in Extract, when you come right down to it, Extract only works in fits and starts anyway. The best part of Extract is actually Ben Affleck. (For the record, The Switch also contains Bateman in a more pensive mode.)

So maybe it's just his latest choice itself that's bothering me. A high-concept comedy in which his domesticated father of two switches bodies with a swinging bachelor type (Ryan Reynolds)? Haven't we seen this or something like it a hundred times before?

Then again, all I can really do is speculate. Making absolute pronouncements gets me in trouble. When I gave Seth Gordon a hard time for making Horrible Bosses, because I considered it beneath him as a one-time documentarian, you guys let me know that my perspective was short-sighted. And it looks like it was. After all, I've heard that some people really love Horrible Bosses -- people I respect.

Which just so happens to have been Bateman's last movie.

So what's Bateman's next movie? IMDB is cagey on the topic, though it lists the much-anticipated and long-awaited Arrested Development movie in 2012. However, as recently as a couple weeks ago, Will Arnett confirmed that the script was still in the writing stages. Which doesn't necessarily mean it won't come out in 2012, just that we should be wary -- we've heard this one before.

In between now and then, let's hope Bateman gets the hint and makes The Course Correction and The Smart Choice, instead of The Swap or The Do-Over or The Repeat or The Redundant.

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