Director – Brian Gilbert, Screenplay/Producers – Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais, Based on the Novel by F. Anstey, Photography – King Baggot, Music – David Shire, Visual Effects – Louis Schwartzberg, Production Design – Jim Schoppe. Production Company – Clement-La Frenais
Judge Reinhold (Marshall Seymour), Fred Savage (Charlie Seymour), Corinne Bohrer (Sam), Swoozie Kurtz (Tina), David Proval (Turk), Jane Kaczmarek (Robyn), Gloria Gifford (Marcie)
Thieves steal a valuable gold and jewel-encrusted Tibetan skull that is used in reincarnation ceremonies. They hide the skull inside the customs-free commercial goods being delivered into the US by starchy yuppie executive Marshall Seymour. Marshall finds the skull and puzzles over what it is. During an argument with his son Charlie, Marshall ends up holding the skull as both angrily wish the other knew what it were like to be them. They then suddenly find themselves occupying each other’s body. Not knowing how to reverse the process, Charlie is forced to deal with his father’s corporate boardroom and Marshall learn how to cope in a schoolroom environment.
The bodyswap concept has proven a popular topic in light fantasy with films such as Turnabout (1940), Freaky Friday (1976), All Of Me (1984), Dating the Enemy (1996), The Hot Chick (2002), The Change-Up (2011) and so on. Indeed, Vice Versa was one of a spate of films that all came out around the same year-and-a-half on the theme of bodyswap, usually of the father-son variety – others included Like Father, Like Son (1987), Big (1988), 18 Again (1988), Chances Are (1989) and Dream a Little Dream (1989).
Vice Versa is based on a British book (although uncredited by the film) that was written way back in 1882. The book has been filmed twice before – a lost silent version Vice Versa (1916) and a British sound version Vice Versa (1948) that was directed and written by Peter Ustinov. There were also three versions adapted for British television – in 1953, 1961 and 1981. These other versions of the story are all set in England – there the father is a starchy upper-class stockbroker and the boy is in his teens and goes to boarding school, whereas this version ditches all touches of boarding school and upper-class background and moves the story across the Atlantic. The film was written and produced by the British writing team of Dick Clement and Ian La Fresnais, who had previously penned classic British tv comedies such as Porridge (1974-7) and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet (1983-2004).
Vice Versa, like most of these parent-child bodyswap efforts, vacillates between silliness, self-conscious and occasional amusement. It is very predictable. There are a number of occasionally funny scenes and a big dollop of feelgood sentiment but the film never strays far from the genre’s easy confines to become particularly standout. There are some occasionally on-the-ball laughs but nothing uproarious. Judge Reinhold plays big, dumb and goofy, but all that his performance comes out as is strained and juvenile. On the other hand, young Fred Savage reveals a good sense of the opportune, wielding a decidedly amusing line of yuppie-speak in the classroom.