With "The Switch," it appears Hollywood has discovered a new subgenre of the romantic comedy: the artificial-insemination rom-com. Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?
If you'll remember (you probably won't), Jennifer Lopez covered similar ground earlier this year in "The Back-up Plan." The Cliffs Notes version of these movies reads like this: Forty-something woman wants to have a baby, can't find a worthy guy, has baby anyway, turns out she needs a guy.
"The Switch," at least, launches its effort from a more refreshing angle. In a screwball-comedy setup, Aniston plays Kassie, a New Yorker whose girlfriends throw her an "I'm Getting Pregnant Party" where she will finalize the procedure.
Call this "Insemination and the City."
Problem time. Kassie's best friend, Wally (Jason Bateman), disagrees with her decision because he's in love with her (of course). Bateman is well-cast, playing Wally with a neurotic bent that recalls a taller, better-looking version of Woody Allen.
At the party, Wally's displeasure is amplified by the sight of Roland (Patrick Wilson), the buff blond sperm donor who is in attendance to lend his "ingredient." Sulking in the bathroom while the party rages on, Wally, now drunk, accidentally washes Roland's semen down the drain. Panicked, he quickly replaces it with his own.
As the rom-com universe would have it, Wally wakes up the next day remembering nothing. Once pregnant, Kassie moves back to Minnesota to raise her child. Seven years later, she returns to New York with young Sebastian, and guess what: He's an adorable neurotic munchkin prone to overly analytical tirades. Wally realizes that Sebastian is unmistakably his and spends the rest of the film strategizing ways to tell Kassie that he hijacked her pregnancy.
Aniston and Bateman find a funny chemistry together, and the film's bemusing setup unfolds with wit and charm. As 6-year-old Sebastian, Thomas Robinson steals every scene he's in.
"The Switch" was originally going to be called "The Baster." Unfortunately, the name change wasn't the only part of this movie that needed a little more finessing. ("The Baster" is, in fact, the title of the film's source material, a short story written by Jeffrey Eugenides, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Middlesex.")
Plot points in "The Switch" -- specifically in the second half -- are snapped together like Legos, which is to say everything falls into place nicely but without real panache. Once Kassie is back in New York, she falls for Roland. We know this because she tells Wally so. But the filmmakers show us very little to back up the new arrangement. It's simply another hurdle for Wally to jump over.
Aiding Wally in his rom-com obstacles is Jeff Goldblum (talk about neurotic), who is oddly inserted into the movie as a friend and confidant. As Leonard, he has little to do with anything, but it's his sage advice to Wally that sends the movie off in different directions. Goldblum handles the minor role almost with a wink to the audience.
This is not to say that the film doesn't work. It generates a fair share of tender moments (synched to a soundtrack filled with superfluous weepy piano). The blossoming relationship between Wally and Sebastian is played especially right.
"The Switch" isn't a bad a.i. rom-com. It's just not a particularly great one.
Tom Horgen • 612-673-7909