At 25: “Vice Versa”

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March 11, 2013 by billysparrow


Vice Versa

Released: March 11, 1988

Starring: Judge Reinhold, Fred Savage, Corinne Bohrer, Swoosie Kurtz, and David Proval

Who can forget the Great Body-Switching Craze that swept across the world of cinema in the late 1980s? Ushered in with the Dudley Moore/Kirk Cameron vehicle “Like Father, Like Son” in 1987. the craze also brought the world “18 Again!” (with George Burns and noted Ithaca College alumnus Charlie Schlatter, and which I might talk about in a month or so), the surprisingly-weird-and-dark-for-a-Two-Coreys film “Dream a Little Dream,” and the little masterpiece I am about to spend way too much time discussing, “Vice Versa,” which starred Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage as an uptight business executive father and heavy-metal-loving (really? yes, really) son who switch places after an unfortunate (or was it?) wishing accident involving some kind of magical Tibetan skull thing. You know how that goes.

This was (and is) easily my favorite of the body-switching movies of the late 1980s, mainly because I thought (and, yes, still kind of think) Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage are super cool. I think I came to this assessment as a direct result of this movie, because at the time of the movie’s release, I had probably only seen Reinhold in “Head Office” (which I don’t remember liking that much) and “Ruthless People” (which I somehow liked even though it doesn’t strike me now as a movie that would appeal to a preteen; then again, there was a Billy Joel song on the soundtrack, so that may have been enough to sway me) and, because “The Wonder Years” started in the fall of 1988, I had only seen Savage in his brief scenes in “The Princess Bride,” which weren’t enough to exalt him to the throne of the Kingdom of Super Cool.

So, “Vice Versa” was likely where I became big fans of the both of them. And for that I am grateful. And so too are you because now because of my fandom for these gentlemen, I felt it was appropriate to buy the film on DVD (in a four-pack with “The Freshman,” “Wholly Moses,” and “A Fine Mess,” none of which have a thing in common with one another other than being comedies) and rewatch it, so we can both sit back and enjoy my ramblings on a movie we haven’t thought about in a decade or two. How lucky are we?

For the previous three films in this wildly unsuccessful and vaguely sad blog series, I have taken fairly extensive notes as I’m watching so I can come up with mildly entertaining things to bring up in the review. I barely filled half an index card by the end of “Vice Versa,” and I’m not sure what this means. Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen it more than the other three, or perhaps it’s because it’s a movie that doesn’t really warrant a lot of note taking. It’s a pretty simple movie, and you can kind of get the sense of where everything’s going about three seconds after you hear the premise. Of course, this describes roughly 87 percent of the movies I like, so I think we’re seeing why I have a fondness for the film.

In terms of perplexing things about the film, I’m still not sure what exactly to make of the fact that the two major villains (Swoosie Kurtz and David Proval, the latter of which in one of several comedic roles that made it difficult to take him seriously when he was on “The Sopranos”) are evil art dealers, a subgenre of villain that may begin and end with this movie. Their motive for wanting the magical Tibetan skull thing (to sell something that has a high value) seems tenuous at best. But, as I re-read that sentence, I kind of want to punch myself in the face, because, really, this is a stupid movie and it’s probably best not to think too hard about it. One more perplexing thing, though: were any of you scalping tickets to rock concerts when you were 12? Because there’s a mini-Damone (an homage to “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” for the Reinhold nuts in the moviegoing world?) doing as much here and it strikes me as a bit odd. But, hey, maybe that’s how things happened in Chicago in 1988. I wasn’t there.

Speaking of which, yes, this movie takes place in Chicago, and as I have previously discussed, I was and, I suppose, still am, a sucker for a movie set in Chicago, or ostensibly set in Chicago. “Vice Versa” is set and seemingly entirely filmed in Chicago, but you can film in Toronto and just call it Chicago and that’s fine with me. So, take note, filmmakers. If you want my seal of approval, just base your movie in Chicago and I’ll love it. Of course, my seal of approval is, if you haven’t noticed, pretty easy to come by, so you could also just set it wherever you like and cast people from the “Police Academy” movies, the “Saved by the Bell” TV show, and Gary Busey and I’ll get you that seal. It’ll probably cost less, too.

Anyway, location aside, the enjoyment I derive from “Vice Versa” can pretty much be summed up in one scene, coming in at just under five minutes. Luckily, this clip is on YouTube, and since, as the old expression goes, YouTube clips speak louder than words, I can just embed this clip here and we can all enjoy “Vice Versa” and the goofy glee that Judge Reinhold brings to his portrayal of a 12-year-old kid.

So much to love! That crazy “state-of-the-art” guitar! “Nice fill, Mr. Seymour”! That amazing keyboard work by the salesman! Plus you get to see one of Jane Lynch’s first film appearances! And it’s all anchored by Reinhold and Savage, who are actually both pretty great in their roles (a bit broad, maybe, but still kinda great). I should note, however, that I could’ve done without the scene where Marshall as Charlie (Reinhold) makes out with Marshall’s girlfriend (played by Corinne Bohrer, whom you of course know as Zed’s girlfriend in “Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol”…bonus points!) and then, after making Marshall as Charlie get him some Evian, Charlie as Marshall (Savage) goes in to kiss Marshall’s girlfriend, and it seems like they might. That was creepy. This is not on YouTube, probably because it violates some sort of decency standards.

There are other little, much less disturbing moments here and there that add to my appreciation of the movie. There’s the “She’s worried about your unit, Dad” line (seen in the trailer above) that, while it doesn’t make me laugh as I did when I was 11, still makes me smile a bit. There’s the awesome pin impression toy that Reinhold plays with in his office, a toy I can’t decide if I begged for and got because of the movie or just played with every time I went to the mall and went into Spencer Gifts (mecca!). And there’s the great “Say What You Mean. Eschew Obfuscation” sign in the classroom, as seen here.

The movie gets a little out of hand toward the end (though in the exact way even an 11-year-old could have anticipated), and what might be one of the weirder closing-credit songs I’ve ever heard pops up to close things out. If you came in at the closing credits (which would be completely bizarre, you weirdo), you might think the film that preceded said credits was a romantic comedy. Because after a movie that was roughly 95 percent about the father and son switching bodies and maybe spent 1 percent of time on the relationship between Reinhold’s character and his girlfriend, we are treated to (because of SPOILER ALERT a successful wedding proposal) an amazingly sappy Diane Warren song sung by 80s giants Starship. Huh? (NOTE: If you listen to this song, you will not be able to unhear it, so proceed with caution.)

But not even Starship can take away from my appreciation for “Vice Versa,” Judge Reinhold, and Fred Savage. And if you disagree, I hope we never hold a magical Tibetan skull thing at the same time and wish to switch places, because I don’t want to be you.


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