Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2
Reviewed by Tanner Smith
For some reason, in the mid-to-late-1980s, there were a certain trend that comedies would seem to follow—body-swap. Ever since 1987’s “Like Father, Like Son” (featuring Dudley Moore and Kirk Cameron as a father and son who transfer minds) was released to box-office success, Hollywood executives thought the idea of two people switching bodies and taking over each other’s identities would be the next best thing for mainstream comedies. But truth be told, most of them aren’t very good—I hated “Like Father, Like Son,” I don’t care for “18 Again” (with George Burns), and don’t even get me started on “Dream a Little Dream” (with Jason Robards and Corey Feldman). There were two movies released in 1988 that stood out among the rest, in terms of quality, laughs, and entertainment. One was “Big,” in which Tom Hanks in an Oscar-nominated performance was a child in an adult’s body. That movie was one of the top-grossing movies of the year and is still a truly treasurable movie. The other is one that most people seem to forget about, but it truly is entertaining—it’s “Vice Versa.”
“Vice Versa” was released just a few months after “Like Father, Like Son” and it features the same gimmick. The minds of a father and son are magically transferred into each other’s bodies, so that the kid is inside his father’s body and has to go to work, and Dad is inside the kid’s body and has to go to school. But only the gimmick is the same. “Like Father, Like Son” was a terrible movie; “Vice Versa” is a good one, because it has a screenplay that truly gets the situation and has clever, funny scenes that make it entertaining. And two game actors were picked effectively to help serve it.
Judge Reinhold plays Marshall Seymour, a hard-working, divorced Chicago department store executive who is spending Christmas holiday with his 12-year-old son, Charlie (Fred Savage). But Marshall barely has enough time to spend with his son, and Charlie can’t help but admit that Dad has it better than him. Both make the mistake of wishing aloud that they could trade places with each other, while looking at an ancient Tibetan item. The item has mystical powers and winds up transforming them into one another—the kid becomes his father and vice versa.
Charlie (as Marshall) goes to work in the department store with wide eyes and an awed expression on his face, a childlike (if you will) way of talking to people (especially at a board meeting), and plays the drums in the music section. Marshall (as Charlie) endures the 7th grade as he takes simple tests but has to wait for everyone else to finish before he can do anything else, ducks school bullies, talks back to his teacher, and even takes a shot at hockey practice even though he can’t ice-skate.
There’s an advantage for each of them during all of this. In one of the best scenes, Charlie (again, as Marshall) gets to say the things he couldn’t say to his school teacher, and in another terrific scene, he even takes revenge on the school bullies. And then there’s Marshall (again, as Charlie) as he gets to say the things he didn’t have the courage to say as his previous self to his girlfriend, Sam (Corinne Bohrer).
This is all fun, entertaining, and well-done. What doesn’t work so much is a subplot involving two smugglers who try to steal the Tibetan item that caused this mess in the first place. They threaten Marshall (who is really Charlie at this point), but that doesn’t seem to work. And then they kidnap Charlie (who is really Marshall at this point), and can’t believe how calm he is about his situation. (OK, the reaction of one of the kidnappers after a firm and direct ransom phone call is pretty funny.) And this of course leads to a chase scene in which the adult in a kid’s body chases the crooks on a cop’s motorcycle so they don’t get away with it.
But what really makes “Vice Versa” work are the performances by Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage as the personality-switched main characters, who are more than able to convince us that they are someone else most of the time. In particular, Reinhold is wonderful as a child inside a grown man’s body, and he performs greatly with body language. He slumps over while he walks, he can’t be still like a kid wouldn’t be at the still age of 11, and of course when he gets excited, he celebrates with an exuberant boilermaker (he jumps up and swings his arm in the air after he gets even with the bullies in a wonderful moment).
“Vice Versa” seems to be forgotten whenever “body-swap” is mentioned to some people, but I find it to be a delightful movie with funny writing and even-more-so solid performances. I will take this over “Like Father, Like Son” any day.