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The Switch

The Switch is being touted for its on-screen pairing of "longtime friends" Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston. Which is odd, because I found their scenes together in Josh Gordon and Will Speck's romantic comedy, about a 40-year-old single woman who sires a son artificialy with sperm that, unbeknownst to her, came from the loins her best friend, to be its weakest aspect. Bateman, whose improvisational wit is widely heralded, appears tentative and deferential in the presence of Aniston, as if he's wary of going all-out for fear of eclipsing his co-star, who also happens to be an executive producer on the film.

Their strained comic rapport makes for a flat and largely unfunny first act in which it is explained how Wally (Bateman), a cranky, neurotic investment banker, inadvertently impregnates his baby-mad best friend Kassie (Aniston). The whole contrived episode culminates during an "insemination party," a peculiar New York City cougar ritual presided over by Kassie's new-age pal Debbie (Juliette Lewis), wherein Wally drunkenly substitutes his semen for that of the Nordic Adonis (Patrick Wilson) originally designated for the job.

But just when The Switch's foreboding intro has us steeling ourselves for 90 more minutes of high-concept rom-com pabulum, the film pull a dirty trick: Its story fast-forwards seven years, during which Kassie returns to her native Minnesota, gives birth to a son named Sebastian, and is lured back to present-day New York, six-year-old Sebastian (Thomas Robinson) in tow, by an irresistible job offer. It's a shamelessly manipulative ploy, bringing in the adorable, pint-sized ringer off the bench, but it turns out to be a welcome one, breathing much-needed life into The Switch's moribund proceedings.

Sebastian is truly a miniature version of his father, whom he knows only as "Uncle" Wally, with all of his intelligence and neuroses but none of the weary cynicism that adulthood inevitably breeds in such types. Bateman is clearly more comfortable — and a lot funnier — around Robinson, and The Switch's most memorable moments are found in the bond they develop.

But alas, The Switch is a rom-com, and so space must be allotted for the less appealing "rom" portion of its story. Kassie spends the bulk of the film believing that the Nordic Adonis is Sebastian's true father, despite the fact that he bears no resemblance to him whatsoever, and when Wally finally confesses to his sperm-swapping, she goes predictably ballistic, renouncing him entirely. But the two are destined to be together, so we are told, and their estrangement is a brief one — lasting only a somber montage or two. When they're inevitably united (if you consider this a spoiler, you are beyond hope), we're happy about it, if only because no child should be forced to grow up with Jennifer Aniston as a single mother. rated this film 2 stars.