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Vice Versa

Columbia/Tri-Star // PG // April 27, 2004
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 23, 2004 | E-mail the Author
Vice Versa was released in the midst of the kid transmogrification craze of the late '80s kicked off by Big, hitting theaters around the same time as the similarly-structured 18 Again! and Like Father, Like Son. The basic premise tosses Big and Freaky Friday in the cuisinart and mashes "Emulsify". Judge Reinhold stars as Marshall Seymour, an exec at a swanky department store teetering on burnout. His immensely stressful job consumes every thought and spare second, straining his relationship with his young son Charlie (Fred Savage) and galpal-slash-coworker Sam (Corinne Bohrer). Marshall's all work and no play, and with Charlie, it's...well, vice versa. Charlie lives with his mother (Jane Kaczmarek), but when she and her lover head out for a tropical vacay, he gets to spend a week with his stressed-out father. They almost immediately start bickering, which is generally ill-advised when holding a gilded, jewel-adorned skull pilfered from Eastern monks. Marshall wishes he had it as easy as an innocent eleven-year-old, and Charlie wishes to be free from the burden of tests and relentless bullying. So, before you can say "pre-CG-era optical effect", they swap bodies. Charlie, now lurking in Marshall's body, is faced with a girlfriend on the verge of breaking up with him and having to justify a multi-million dollar promotional event to the company's disinterested board. Marshall, trapped in Charlie's pint-sized frame, suffers through the torment of junior high and pee-wee league hockey. Aside from learning a little more about life and :gulp: each other, Marshall and Charlie are also pursued by the art smugglers responsible for Ye Olde Magic Skull winding up in their hands in the first place.

I really liked Vice Versa when it was first released, way back when I was around the age Charlie is in the movie. It was probably one of those premium cable standards I watched incessantly, although it's probably approaching fifteen years since I last caught it. I tend to be pretty cautious about anything I liked when I was that age, a time when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were the gleaming center of my universe. Vice Versa holds up decently enough, but like the MadBalls and Inhumanoids briefly glimpsed in Faux-Marshall's office, it holds more appeal in nostalgia than it probably will to viewers seeing it for the first time.

The first thirty or forty minutes are almost agonizing. The extended setup is laughless, and the early moments after the body switch seem really forced and awkward. Vice Versa takes a while to settle in, but once it does...I dug it. Not-Marshall traips around with an uncomfortable gait, consistently saying what seems to be the wrong thing at the wrong time. His father's too uptight to exchange anything more than pleasantries with his co-workers, but Charlie-Marshall chats up his secretary for the first time in years, pounds the skins with an indescribably '80s guitarist in the store, hops onstage with a hair-metal band, and rekindles the spark in the relationship with Sam. Marshall-Charlie is continually pushed around, mocked by his classmates, inadvertently expresses a crush on his spindly homeroom teacher, and careens around aimlessly while playing hockey. He spends his downtime sipping on martinis at the homestead and frustrating limo drivers. Vice Versa works surprisingly well when it focuses on those uncomfortable fish-out-of-water scenarios, watching someone completedly unprepared for a given situation try to fumble their way through it. I wouldn't exactly describe the performances as convincing, but they're so winsome that it's easy to suspend that little bit of disbelief. The subplot about the thieves, played by David Proval (UHF!) and Swoosie Kurtz, is kind of a distraction but thankfully doesn't suck up an excessive amount of screentime.

I was surprised by how funny I found Vice Versa, even having seen it so many times. I have the type of personality where I might watch a movie and think, "oh, that's pretty good", but not really audibly chuckle, especially if I'm watching it by myself. I was laughing out loud pretty frequently throughout Vice Versa, and I can't help but recommend any movie that elicits that sort of reaction. If I were watching Vice Versa for the first time, though, I dunno. Something tells me I wouldn't be as enthusiastic. I do recommend this DVD, despite not having any extras to speak of, as at least a rental for other folks who were fans a decade and change years ago, but unfamiliar viewers might want to steer clear.

Video: A pretty standard 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. Predominately sharp and well-defined, with some grain and light wear sneaking in intermittently, most noticeably in the handful of special effects sequences. The palette is kinda bland, due more to the set design than anything specific to this transfer. Hefty chunks of the movie are set in Marshall's apartment, almost every square inch of which is brown, or chilly Chicago exteriors, neither offering a particularly wide assortment of colors. Every once in a while -- the snippets set in Thailand, f'r instance -- things do appear brighter and more colorful. So anyway, yeah. No major complaints.

Audio: The Dolby Digital 2.0 surround audio, encoded at a bitrate of 192Kbps, is similarly solid. There's some nice stereo separation up front and a steady roar from the rear speakers. Dialogue sometimes sounds strained...not muffled, exactly, but like it's teetering on that edge. Again, no concerns of note, though. Other audio options include subtitles in English and Spanish as well as closed captions.

Supplements: There aren't any extras, although the DVD does open with full-frame trailers for Groundhog Day and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. There aren't a lot of submenus to navigate on this DVD -- everything is packed onto a single 16x9 enhanced static menu aside from the list of twelve chapter stops. The disc is packaged in a keepcase, and no insert has been provided.

Conclusion: Vice Versa really works best as a nostalgia piece. If you caught the movie fifteen years ago and enjoyed it, you might find this DVD worth a rental. The uninitiated probably shouldn't bother. Rent It.
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