(by Dustin Putman
The only surprising thing about "The Switch" is that it is based upon a short story titled "The Baster" by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jeffrey Eugenides. How a project with that sort of pedigree behind it could be turned into such a ceaselessly bland movie is something we can all thank the Hollywood gods for. With the exception of a few nice performances, almost nothing works in "The Switch." Defying categorization not because it's original—it's not at all, once the viewer gets past the premise hook—but because it's so ineffectual, the film is not comedic enough to be considered a comedy, not dramatic enough to be a drama, not romantic enough to be a romance, and not believable enough to be a slice-of-life. Despite this, all the usual clichés of every aforementioned genre are here in spades as the running time bloats and the increasingly impatient viewer waits for the plot to catch up as it heads toward a foregone conclusion. Article continues below
Pushing forty and tired of waiting around to meet someone and have a child, Kassie Larson (Jennifer Aniston) decides to become pregnant via a sperm donor. Platonic best friend Wally Mars (Jason Bateman) is not too thrilled with the news and a little taken aback, wondering to himself why he's not good enough for her to even think about asking. At an alcohol-fueled pregnancy party hosted by Kassie's friend Debbie (Juliette Lewis) where the chosen donor, a hunky blond named Roland (Patrick Wilson), is to fulfill his part of the bargain, Wally accidentally spills the semen down the sink and drunkenly decides to replace it with his own. Kassie promptly gets pregnant and decides to move away from the hustle and bustle of New York City for a quieter life in Minnesota. Seven years later, she moves back to the Big Apple with neurotic, super-smart six-year-old son Sebastian (Thomas Robinson) in tow, reuniting with Wally and eager to have the two guys in her life finally meet. Suddenly, Wally experiences an epiphany: he's Sebastian's dad. With Kassie starting up a relationship with Roland, Wally must now find a way to let his true feelings for her be known while coming clean with a truth that may sacrifice their entire friendship.
"The Switch" plays as if each actor filmed their scenes separately and then they were spliced together with fancy editing and optical tricks in post-production. Although they are supposed to be best friends, there is no connection whatsoever between Wally and Kassie. In their first scene, they meet for lunch and act like acquaintances who can barely tolerate each other, not close pals who have known each other for years. Wally lacks personality most of the time while Kassie appears irritated. Because the plot demands it, he naturally is supposed to really be in love with her, but is stuck, as coworker and sounding board Leonard (Jeff Goldblum) states, "in the friend zone." Who talks like that? One-dimensional side characters in contrived, formulaic films like this one. Later on, when complications arrive in the form of Roland—who thinks he is Sebastian's biological father—coming back into Kassie's life and her deciding to make a go of things, the relationship is as flimsy as press-on nails. Again, this subplot is tossed in out of necessity for adding conflict, not because Kassie genuinely seems to care or be attracted to Roland. Their chemistry is even worse than that between her and Wally.
The performances from Jason Bateman (2009's "Couples Retreat") and adorable newcomer Thomas Robinson are saving graces, but ultimately not enough to save the film as a whole. The bond formed between Bateman's Wally and Robinson's Sebastian is low-key and kind of sweet, and it was a nice touch to have Sebastian come to like Wally and favor him without even knowing that it's his father. Sebastian is overly quirky and maybe not fully plausible—he talks and acts too mature for any six-year-old—but he's never annoying, and Robinson does well with the heightened dialogue he has to speak and his interactions with his co-stars. Bateman's greatest feat is remaining likable in spite of committing a betrayal that, when one stops to really think about it, is outright deplorable. In an attempt to counteract this audience expectation, directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck (2007's "Blades of Glory") and screenwriter Allan Loeb (2008's "21") have devised a wholly contrived story point that wants us to believe Wally went seven years without even remembering that he swapped the cup of semen because he was so out of it that night. Magically, he remembers what happened when Kassie returns. Yeah, right.
She may receive top billing and an executive producer credit, but Jennifer Aniston (2009's "Love Happens") is wasted as Kassie. The narrative never follows her—it is always beside Wally—and so one never senses her true feelings on anything or gets a chance to sympathize with what she is going through. Aniston seems to know this and goes through the paces with a star turn as uninspired as any she has ever given in a feature film. She looks terribly disinterested—on this count, she can't be blamed—and the depth of her role never expands beyond the paper-thin development she receives in the first act. With that said, Aniston does utter one great line reading at the end—without giving away the circumstances, the word is "probably"—and it's one of the few memorable moments. As obligatory pals with no lives of their own outside of how they service the protagonists, Jeff Goldblum (2006's "Man of the Year") and Juliette Lewis (2009's "Whip It") are so far beneath their thankless parts it almost hurts.
From the outside, "The Switch" looks like it would be a breezy entertainment, the kind one can watch, enjoy and be endeared by without having to think too much. In actuality, it's a distinct bore that flatlines from one end to the other. The writing is trite. The direction is merely serviceable. There is little appeal and certainly no inspiration to any of it. Meanwhile, the viewer is left numb, wondering if they should be feeling something for the people on the screen without ever actually feeling anything. It's obvious what's coming next, it just takes an awfully long time to get there, and then isn't even convincing, to boot. The lame script should have been switched out long before the original title was.