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The Switch: Two men and a baby - but whose?

Jason Bateman stars as Wally in The Switch.

2 out of 4 stars


The Switch

  • Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck
  • Written by Allan Loeb
  • Starring Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston
  • Classification: NA

Oftentimes, new technology makes for old plots. Consider the case of able-bodied semen which, thanks to medical science, can now be deposited in a bottle and donated to any female pregnant with reproductive desires. And what have the movies done with this modern miracle? Two things mainly. The first is tritely comic: Yes, the Scene, the recurring one where our embarrassed seed-spiller gets locked in an antiseptic room stocked with the sort of light reading designed to promote heavy breathing. The second is tritely dramatic, a reprise of the hoariest plot device in the book: confused parentage, the ol' who's-your-daddy routine. No wonder the result looks fresh but smells stale, so many state-of-the-art test tubes wrapped in a Dickensian yarn.

With that in mind, welcome to The Switch, another in a recent line of romcoms eager to get us laughing all the way to the sperm bank, and then to the infant dividends beyond. This one, very loosely based on a Jeffrey Eugenides story, spends the first act laboriously telegraphing its premise. The place is Manhattan, seven years ago, where we meet that most familiar and tedious of cinematic couples - the "best friends" who take the entire damn movie to figure out they love each other. Wally (Jason Bateman) is a successful financier with a neurotic streak. Nothing too off-putting, of course, just mildly yet cutely depressive and a bit of a hypochondriac. Kassie is easier to sum up: She's Jennifer Aniston, looking more mature these days but not acting it. She's still got those sitcom mannerisms, wedded in this case to a sitcom conceit: "I'm in the market for some semen."

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Right quick, a marketer pops up in the handsome form of Roland (Patrick Wilson), gainfully employed and happily married yet, apparently, eager to offer his helping hand. Cue the Scene, with a slight difference this time. Everyone gathers for an "insemination party" - in an apartment, with a bathroom containing the strategically placed bottle, into which the hunky Roland makes the deposit, followed by a drunken Wally who makes "the switch." And then he passes out, his deed conveniently forgotten.

Flash forward to the present when, after moving to the Midwest to give birth and raise her son, Kassie returns to New York, keen to introduce little Sebastian to her best friend. Well, darned if the lad isn't a chip off Wally's neurotic block - same cutesy streak of depression, same hypochondriacal tendencies, even the same command of the Queen's English. Given to planetary concerns, the boy lectures, "Nature is in crisis, and there's only one mammal to blame." Okay, I know that precociousness is the rule for screen tykes, but that's quite a mouthful for any six-year-old mammal.

The wonder here is that Bateman and the child actor spark off each other quite delightfully. For a few precious scenes, when father and son are alone, the movie is actually amusing, even touching. The rest of the time it's content to stall, looking for a credible impediment to romance and not finding it in the reappearance of Roland, divorced now but as annoyingly upbeat as ever. Worse, the stalling comes to a dead stop when the co-directors, Josh Gordon and Will Speck, winch in this leaden montage: A lover's quarrel, followed by a solitary walk in the rain, punctuated by a sappy ballad lumbering over the soundtrack. It took two of them to come up with that?

Happily, not everything unfolds at a contrived crawl. Indeed, the contrived crisis, the contrived resolution, and the contrived ending all zip by in a New York minute. But did I mention Sebastian's obsessive hobby? He collects mass-market picture frames with their stock photos, generic shots of generic people, still inside - hey, the kid's got all the makings of a Hollywood producer.

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Film critic

Rick Groen is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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