[box cover]

Vice Versa

One of the great, enduring mysteries of the 1980s is how Judge Reinhold improbably parlayed his spacy, bumbling value as a character actor into leading man status. Even in the time of Steve Guttenberg, it's remarkable to think that someone this ill-at-ease onscreen (seriously, he seems constantly on the verge of wetting his pants) struck studio execs as a man with whom American moviegoers could identify. What that says about the nation's psyche during that decade could probably make for a great, angry Jonathan Rosenbaum essay. In lieu of this, however, let's simply focus on the actor's final star turn, Vice Versa (1988), itself a part of another mystifying '80s trend — the body-swapping comedy. Not as dismal as the Kirk Cameron/Dudley Moore vehicle Like Father, Like Son, or as good as Big, Vice Versa is a reasonably enjoyable family film that now seems strangely dated thanks to Reinhold, miscast as Marshall Seymour, a career-obsessed divorcé in danger of alienating his 11-year-old son Charlie (Fred Savage). When Marshall receives custody of Charlie for a week while his remarried ex-wife goes on vacation with her manly husband, his carefully organized life begins to unravel. Burdened with a delicate, Asian-flavored business deal for his department store, jeopardized by a shipping mishap that leaves him with a skull-shaped cultural artifact rather than the marketable vase he intended to bring back, the last thing Marshall needs is a whimsical son who brings his pet frog to dinner at a posh Chicago eatery. The added turmoil proves too much. When Charlie complains about the rigors of elementary school, Marshall wishes he could be in his son's shoes; a wish that Charlie returns in kind, at which point the unwanted artifact comes to life and, through the magic of quaint special effects, the pair switch bodies. Now, Marshall must contend with the stock horrors of elementary school — bullies, mean teachers, and a general lack of freedom — while Charlie must rescue his dad's tenuous business deal. Adding to their troubles is Swoosie Kurtz as a treacherous smuggler who wants her illegally obtained artifact returned. Besides its relevance to the Reinhold Question, Vice Versa is probably best remembered as the film that introduced audiences to the ingratiating Savage, who would henceforth grow up awkwardly on television's long-running "The Wonder Years." Savage is pretty good as the dwarfed Marshall, convincingly furrowing his brow and sipping on a dry martini after a hard day at school. He's far better than his co-star Reinhold, whose idea of playing an 11 year-old isn't too far removed from actors' conventional notions of the mentally retarded. Not that the film would've been that much better with a credible lead; it just might've been less of a chore for adults to sit through. Columbia TriStar presents Vice Versa in a decent anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with equally decent Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. No extras, keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks



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