The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Switch

For lack of a better, more well thought out description, sometimes all a movie needs to succeed, to pull audiences in is to have a gimmick. When it comes to comedies, the gimmick has to tread that fine line. A bunch of friends on a bachelor party weekend rediscovering what they did in Vegas via flashback? Good gimmick. A drunken man destroys his female friend's semen sample she was going to use to artificially inseminate herself and instead replaces it with his own? Oh goodness, what a horrifically contrived gimmick. Yep, 2010's The Switch.

Wally (Jason Bateman) and Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) have been friends for years following a couple dates that didn't go so well. Kassie is at a point in her life where she wants to have a kid, but she's had no luck finding the right guy and chooses to go to a sperm donor and be artificially inseminated. There's an issue. She does so at a 'Getting Pregnant' party, and a very drunk -- possibly high -- Wally accidentally destroys the semen sample. In a drunken stupor, he replaces the lost sample with his own, not even remembering what he did by the next morning. Some six years go by, Kassie moves from NYC and has a son, leaving Wally behind. She moves back to the city, giving Wally quite the shock. The boy is like him in every way right down to his neurotic, hypochondriac ways. It all starts to come together. Should he tell Kassie? How do you even tell someone that? Uh-oh, we've got a problem.

I almost didn't make it through this comedy. I try and give every movie I see a fair shot, but this one pushed the limits early on. The biggest reason? Well, it could be the horrifically awful gimmick that puts the story into motion, but it isn't. It's Bateman as Wally, an obsessively neurotic, shrill, rude and inconsiderate guy who is so easy to root against that it made me question why I was watching the movie. It's clear he has feelings for Aniston's Kassie, but that almost-relationship never worked out. In the meantime, he intervenes in her life -- more than just a friend -- while also sabotaging his own relationships. It's explained later that his Dad left the family when he was younger so I guess that makes it all okay. Still, for the first 40 minutes or so the character is so downright unlikable that it almost derails the movie.

While the second half of the movie is actually pretty decent, it is the first half that does its best to drive us away. Directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck rely on a screenplay that builds itself around such a badly contrived gimmick that it's just rough to watch. Bateman's Wally keeps trying to convince Kassie not to go through with the sperm donor but can't pull it off. At her 'Getting Pregnant' party, he gets drunk and also takes some herbal pill that clearly messes with his consciousness. Destroying the sample, he actually masturbates and replaces the missing donation with his own donation. Oh, but he's drunk so he can't remember it!?! It feels like a cop-out that he simply can't remember what he did. I'm all for gross-out jokes and comedy, but this just seemed like a little much on the gross-out meter. It also seems all sorts of wrong ethically, but that could just be me up on my high horse.

Go figure then, but when Kassie returns to NYC, 'Switch' actually manages to find an enjoyable, likable and entertaining tone and story. That switch-up comes when Wally meets Sebastian (Thomas Robinson), a 6-year old version of himself....but really cute. He's a unique little kid from his hypochondria to his general intelligence. Named Sebastian, he's got quite the nerdy name and after bonding early on with Wally, turns to his "Uncle" for advice. I liked the Sebastian character a lot. He's curious about his real dad. He likes to collect photo frames but keeps the inserted pictures, not replacing them with his own. The chemistry between Bateman and Robinson is pretty perfect, helping make up for the rather obnoxious early portions of the movie.

The rest of the cast is familiar but not bad. Aniston is okay as Kassie, but she's not given enough to do other than look kind of worried and be nervous. Patrick Wilson plays Roland, the actual donor who thinks Sebastian is his son. It's a tough part because we're supposed to think Roland is a doof, but other than some weird little traits, he seems like a good guy. Juliette Lewis is wasted as Debbie, Kassie's appropriately kooky character, a must-have character in a quasi-rom-com. I did like Jeff Goldblum as Leonard, Wally's co-worker who usually gives him a good dose of brutal honesty as the problems arise. Not surprisingly, things get uncomfortable late as Wally decides to tell Kassie the truth. The ending seems a little forced to make things a happy ending. I for one, imagine Kassie being eternally pissed at Wally, but I'm not writing screenplays.

So while I really intensely disliked parts of the movie, the parts that do work are excellent. It's a moderately positive review, but don't be looking for a comedy classic.

The Switch (2010): ** 1/2 /****   

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