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MOVIE REVIEWS : 'Vice Versa' Does the Father-and-Son Shuffle

March 11, 1988|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

"Vice Versa" (citywide) has a situation that approaches the ludicrous. It's a movie about a father and son who accidentally exchange minds and personalities, released within six months of another movie with exactly the same premise, "Like Father, Like Son."

Why would anyone want to make two movies with this idea? Why would anyone want to make one movie with this idea? It's not a foolproof premise. Nor is it original; it combines the magical body switch of the 1941 "Turnabout" with any number of films, like Hawks' "Monkey Business," in which adult stars regress to childhood.

But here, Judge Reinhold does a gawk act, bug-eyed, whiny and screechy. Playing Marshall Seymour, a posh Chicago department store executive now invaded--through magic--by the mind of his 11-year-old son, Reinhold incessantly whines, chortles, brays and insists on wearing tennis shoes to work.

Since son Charlie (Fred Savage) was mature for his age before the switch, it's hard to guess what happened. Did Charlie's mind become demented in transit? One might expect a fairly bright 11-year-old, stuck in a 30-year-old's body, to try to play-act a little, to fake maturity--give himself away only by ignorance. You wouldn't expect him to show up for his father's job downtown and then walk around gaping and guffawing like the village idiot.

"Vice Versa" may be a better film than "Like Father, Like Son," largely because of the direction and Savage's performance, but it's still a disappointment. British director Brian Gilbert showed tremendous talent in his 1985 "Sharma and Beyond," which he also wrote. Here, producer-writers Ian La Fresnais and Dick Clement ("Otley," "Water") give us mostly a collection of obvious gags, traipsing wheezingly from one point to another.

There's a ridiculous kidnaping subplot which seems to have been shoehorned in merely to justify a car chase. Gilbert is obviously more at home with the comedy of character and psychology than slapstick and double-entendres. Still, it's puzzling that he's let the normally adept Reinhold go so wildly off the tracks, or that he doesn't get more from a superb actress like Swoosie Kurtz--playing a malevolent smuggler.

"Vice Versa" (MPAA rated PG) has its moments. Occasionally there's a genuinely funny scene, or an affecting interchange between Reinhold and Savage. Yet the invention in either of these father-son switch movies is dubious. As high concept or low comedy, they're movies probably only a mother could love.

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