There’s always been a bit of teen girl about Vince Vaughn, who, despite his towering height, can expertly break into a giggle or hissy fit. It’s what makes his new movie “Freaky” such an enjoyable new entry in the body-swap genre, as Vaughn plays a serial killer called the Butcher who swaps bodies with anxious high schooler Millie (Kathryn Newton).
Newton’s no slouch either as a psycho-possessed teen, locking onto one school bully after another. The movie marks a new direction for the genre, mashing it up (if sometimes awkwardly) with horror tropes and a generous helping of “Heathers”-esque bitchiness. It’s a ripe occasion to look back through the ranks of body-swap movies over the decades, which have occasionally soared to brilliance — and, even at their most generic, tend to be solid guilty-pleasure material.
The title of “Freaky” tips its hat to “Freaky Friday,” the mother of the genre; it’s been made four times, so far. A young Jodie Foster made the 1976 version a standout, but it’s the 2003 remake, with Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis as the mother and daughter who swap bodies, that’s the best of the bunch. Who can forget Curtis, taken over by a teenage Lohan, shrieking “I’m like the crypt-keeper!” into the mirror — or long for the days when Lohan was a plucky, coherent movie star?
It’s no surprise youth-obsessed Hollywood has been churning out movies about returning to adolescence since forever, but there have been some real gluts: 1987 to 1989 alone gave us “Big,” “Like Father, Like Son,” “Vice Versa,” “18 Again!” and “Dream a Little Dream.” Tom Hanks’ performance as Josh Baskin, a tween trapped in the body of a grownup, made “Big” a classic of sorts — although it’s not without an ick factor, particularly Hanks’ man-child’s scenes with love interest Elizabeth Perkins. As for the others, “Vice Versa,” with saucer-eyed Fred Savage and Judge Reinhold doing decent impressions of each other, is the clear runner-up. Later came the similar, so-so Zac Efron/Matthew Perry vehicle “17 Again” (2009), and the superior “13 Going on 30” (2004), in which Jennifer Garner channels her inner teen with infectious joy.
Truly memorable body-swap movies, though, are the ones that cast iconic actors and let them go nuts. The heavyweight champ is 1997’s “Face/Off,” a fantastically ludicrous John Woo action movie in which Nicolas Cage and John Travolta get to play each other thanks to a plot about, well, getting their faces taken off. And swapped.
Previously, 1984’s “All of Me” went in a slightly different direction, having Steve Martin’s character internalize Lily Tomlin’s. It was an inspired role for the then-slapstick comic, whose “happy feet” stand-up bit was a perfect match for walking down the street as two comics trapped in one. And 1992’s “Prelude to a Kiss” made for an unusually melancholy entry in the genre, with America’s reigning big-screen sweetheart Meg Ryan playing a whimsical Ryan-y character possessed by an old man.
The 2010s weren’t a banner decade for body-swapping flicks, with the exception of 2016’s anime “Your Name,” a global, Gen-Z megahit. Last year’s Issa Rae/Regina Hall comedy “Little” fell flat despite a cute plot. But the two “Jumanji” reboots gave Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black some good riffing material, particularly Hart, who did a killer Danny Glover impersonation in 2019’s “The Next Level.”
We can’t argue “Freaky” takes the genre to the next level, exactly — but it’s still bloody good fun.
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