Review: 'The Switch'

It's hard to believe that "The Switch," the new romantic comedy from directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck, is based on a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides, who wrote the novel on which "The Virgin Suicides" was based.

"The Switch" is a polished, sentimental outing in the same vein as any number of romantic comedies, but nothing could be further from Sofia Coppola's super-stylized "Suicides," a morbid story of suburban oppression.

If you're not a fan, "The Switch" might leave you wishing that some of its characters had met the same car-exhaust-induced fate as Kirsten Dunst did in Coppola's film.

That is not to say "The Switch" is bad. Rather, it exists inside, and falls victim to, many of the same tired conventions we've seen time and time again. The production, with its shiny panoramic views of the New York City skyline and time-lapse photography that seems lifted straight out of television commercials, doesn't jibe with the fairly raunchy nature of much of the humor.

It would probably be a forgettable affair if not for the cast, who offer up a slew of entertaining moments in the face of other problems that threaten the film.

The plot revolves around two friends, Wally (Jason Bateman) and Kassie (Jennifer Aniston), who work and play in Manhattan. In true Woody Allen form, Wally is neurotic, worrying about cancer and generally afraid to take risks. Kassie, in contrast, is concerned that her biological clock is winding down, and she decides that she isn't going to wait around for a relationship that might not happen to have a child. She asks Wally, who has always harbored feelings for Kassie but has since fallen into the netherworld of "friend" territory, to help her find a sperm donor.

Without spoiling too much, Wally isn't keen on helping Kassie follow through with her plan, and the two have a sort of half-hearted falling out. Kassie finds her donor and throws a party with her friend, Debbie (Juliette Lewis), to celebrate the insemination. Wally attends and decides to drown his sorrows, which of course, leads him to the bathroom, where "the donation" has been made. You can probably guess what happens next.

It's here where things get a bit shaky. Up to this point, the film more or less sticks to Eugenides' story, and the result is a witty, slightly risque comedy that sneaks in clever jokes and allows Bateman to show off his ability to hold down a film with his mopey, self-deprecating humor. One can't help but see Kassie's search and Wally's attempts to foil it, culminating in his ultimate act of biological "hijacking," as Bateman's character cleverly refers to it, as rich enough territory to qualify for its own film.

This isn't the case, though, as it flashes forward to a less entertaining Act II, one that leans on some implausible writing meant to develop the relationship between Bateman and 6-year-old Sebastian (the charming Thomas Robinson). Things turn from witty to Hallmark-level saccharine quickly, almost as if the film is apologizing for its earlier foray into darker territory.

One notable exception is Jeff Goldblum, who brings the movie to life as Leonard, Wally's cynical and perpetually calm friend and co-worker. Leonard is the not-quite-real best friend who never gets mad when you show up at his house at 4 a.m., drunk. He's physically fit even though he eats chocolate bars as he walks (slowly) on the treadmill, and he is always surrounded by beautiful women.

The perfect foil to the neurotic Wally, he adds a much-needed level of comic relief, whether he's giving slightly predatory relationship advice or offering his "congratulations" with a big question mark at the revelation that Wally might be Sebastian's father.

"The Switch"

Our grade: B-

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Running Time: 101 min

MPAA rating: PG-13

Release Date: Aug 20, 2010