"The Switch" is a lot smarter and sweeter than its premise, which sounds like something out of a horndog sex comedy: A guy swaps his sperm out for the donor's when his best friend decides she wants to get pregnant sans marriage. I can just see this movie being made by the Judd Apatow crew, with Seth Rogen as the clueless ersatz dad.
But instead the movie stars Jason Bateman, whose comic sensibilities are more nuanced. He plays Wally Mars, a sad-sack who secretly pines for gal pal Kassie, played by Jennifer Aniston. Officially this is a Jennifer Aniston movie, but Bateman is the real star. And it's less a romantic comedy than a humorous character exploration of Wally.
I particularly liked the scenes between Bateman and Thomas Robinson, who plays his son Sebastian (though neither of them knows this initially). Wally got raging drunk at the Kassie's insemination party -- apparently there really are such things, at least in New York City -- and spilt the spunk delivered by hired gun (pun intended) Roland (Patrick Wilson). Desperate, he decided to, ahem, grasp hold of the situation and substitute his own offering.
Wally remembers none of this due to his extreme inebriation that night, which eventually brought him to the doorstep of his boss, babbling something about "trading Diane Sawyer to the Vikings." (Watch the movie; it actually makes sense.) The boss is played by Jeff Goldblum, in a small but delicious turn filled with terrific comic timing.
Fast forward seven years. After decamping to Minnesota, Kassie has decided to return to the Big Apple with her son, Sebastian, who's like a mopey little Mini-Me of Wally. Sebastian collects picture frames for a hobby (keeping the sample photos of strangers, for whom he constructs elaborate backstories) and frets about the dogs held at the kill shelter. He even does the same little moan-y thing Wally does when he eats.
Wally immediately notices these similarities, despite having just met the kid, while Cassie, who's been around him for every day of his six years, somehow does not.
The interactions between Wally and Sebastian are the best thing about the movie, favorably recalling "About A Boy," where a tenuous relationship grows between a child and a man who is many ways still one himself. Recognizing that Sebastian is super-smart, Wally speaks to him like a regular person, rather than that condescending "I'm-the-grown-up-here" tone most of us unconscious take.
Wally: "You want to tell me about your new school?"Despite having her name first in the credits, Aniston is really the supporting role here, and she fills it out nicely despite there not being much there on the page. (The screenplay is by Allan Loeb, based on a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides.)
Wally: "Because you're a kid and I don't know what else to talk about."
Of course, there is the inevitable moment when Wally, having finally convinced himself of the truth about Sebastian, must confess his deed to Cassie. This is where the movie does conform to tired convention, as the plot becomes a series of delaying tactics until the truth is revealed, at which point, like a snowball rolling downhill, it has acquired so much weight that cataclysmic occurrences must result.
Directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck previously helmed the dimwitted Will Ferrell (but I repeat myself) movie, "Blades of Glory." "The Switch" may look like another dopey comedy, but it walks and talks like a bird of an entirely different feather.
3 stars out of four