Characters in the new Jennifer Aniston-Jason Bateman rom-com “The Switch” talk a lot about throwing one another a “curve ball.” Ironic since “The Switch” is about as down the middle as movies can get; so unimaginative and formula-driven is this movie that it seems entirely to have been hashed out by executives over a long lunch. And so limp and halting is its storytelling that we get the sense that we’re watching only the rough cut.
Neurotic, New York City stock trader Wally (Bateman) is best friend to bright, sexy, perennially single TV producer Kassie (Aniston). Afraid of change, Wally’s content with their platonic relationship until Kassie reveals she wants a child and that, in fact, she’s found the prefect sperm donor in Roland (Patrick Wilson, flashing megawatt smiles left and right). Wally’s pent-up feelings over Kassie and her decision sends him into a tailspin at her “insemination party” where, drunk and high, he bungles Roland’s cup of precious “ingredient” and replaces it with his own. Soon after, Kassie gets pregnant and moves back to Minnesota to raise her kid.
That seven years pass and never do these alleged “best friends” see other once is a stretch but we buy it because it’s the only way writer Allan Loeb and directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck’s central gimmick can work. And that gimmick is the shock that registers on Wally upon first meeting Kassie’s son Sebastian (Thomas Robinson): the boy’s hangdog expression, the moodiness, the neuroses they both share leave little doubt whose son he could be.
Wally and Sebastian warm to each other over several “bonding” scenes, some tepid, others amusing. The question now for Wally is how to reveal to Kassie that he’s Wally’s father, not the strapping Roland who, by the way, re-enters the story as Kassie’s new love interest. As she and Roland begin a serious courtship, one that threatens marriage, Wally finds himself under pressure to pour his heart out to Kassie – tell her the truth about Sebastian and his own long-suppressed love for her.
The problem is not that you saw it all coming before the movie even started, but that “The Switch” makes so little effort to surprise us, to deviate just a tad from genre protocol. The characters are assembly-line widgets: Besides the above-mentioned, we have Leonard (Jeff Goldblum), Wally’s business partner and confidante, and Debbie (Juliette Lewis), Kassie’s kooky sidekick. From what we get of Debbie, she’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, and Kassie’s friendship with her exists solely to provide a comic foil to Kassie’s earthy pragmatism. Likewise, Leonard, who’s just Wally’s sounding board and therapist stand-in as it offers Goldblum an another role to ply his glib, vaguely patronizing gadfly shtick.
As the reigning queen of B-grade rom-coms, Aniston is cannily appealing, her attractiveness tailored to perfection. For his part, Bateman’s warm, genuine presence can make even pabulum like “The Switch” worth a look, even just for his moments – both comedic and dramatic, all wholly original. As proof, I submit a scene involving a hung over Wally, a lobby trashcan and an unwitting passerby. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, and point to how deserving the actor is of better, bolder material.
Directed by: Josh Gordon & Will Speck
Written by: Allan Loeb
Cast: Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Thomas Robinson, Jeff Goldblum, Juliette Lewis, Patrick Wilson