Vice Versa

viceversaRemember Like Father Like Son? There’s no reason you should, except that it was released less than six months ago, It was the one about a father and son who exchanged personalities through a mysterious process, and lived the other’s life for a few days.

Personality transference seems to be reaching epidemic proportions in the cinema. It even occurs among screenwriters (the mysterious process of plot transference perhaps), because exactly the same premise has turned up in a new film called Vice Versa.

Here the father (Judge Reinhold) is a successful executive, a gotta-go-I’m-late-for-something type who actually orders Grey Poupon in restaurants. Son (Fred Savage, the kid in The Princess Bride) is a grade-schooler who shuttles between his divorced parents; in a restaurant, he’s likely to loose his pet frog on the unsuspecting patrons. To set the plot in motion, dad travels to Thailand to buy some merchandise, and manages to bring back a germ­-encrusted skull that has some special power.

This object zap’s dad’s brain into the boy, and you know, vice versa. Which means that the adult who walks into his business office has the mind of a 10-year-old. And the child in grade school is ordering limos to pick him up after class.

Vice Versa is using exactly the same sort of fish-out-of-water comedy as Like Father, Like Son. But I’d give the very definite edge to this new film. The script by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais does rely on familiar jokes, but it’s a much better acted and directed movie.

Reinhold has some lovely, goggle-eyed moments as the boy­-in-the-man’s body, and he nicely captures the complicated excitement of being kissed by dad’s girlfriend (Corinne Bohrer). Meanwhile, the adult in Savage’s body has to worry about the possibility of going back to live with his ex-wife, who would now also be his mother: “It’s a Freudian nightmare!”

The film is directed by Brian Gilbert, a Britisher who made the fetching Sharma and Beyond for English TV. He’s got a light touch, given the generic limitations, and draws the father-son relationship well. He even makes the dumb subplot, in which the real owner of the skull (Swoosie Kurtz) tries to regain possession, reasonably watchable. In short, if you absolutely have to make a movie about personality transference, this is the way to make it.

First published in the Herald, March 10, 1988

I love Sharma and Beyond so much that I’ve always kept an eye of Brian Gilbert’s career, which has had interesting entries (a couple of literary biopics, Tom & Viv and Wilde, as well as the Sally Field picture Not Without My Daughter, which gave a running gag to South Park). He hasn’t directed a film since 2005, so maybe that’s that. Clement and La Frenais are British writers (both born 1937) who have a near-unbelievable record of produced stuff, going back to writing for Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in the 1960s and including Across the Universe and The Commitments. Reinhold was having his moment at this time, and so was Corinne Bohrer, who made Dead Solid Perfect the same year.

One Response to Vice Versa

  1. Robert K says:

    The Freaky Friday trope. It’s nice and safe–you can execute it badly and it’s still watchable.

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