Aug. 25 2010 12:00 AM

So-so 'Switch' puts Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman in a truly sticky situation

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It’s about time a film addressed a pressing problem that has
been the secret shame of millions, a condition politicians never dare to
address, a situation even the mouthiest TV pundits refuse to discuss.

We’re talking, of course, about lice — and “The Switch” is
the gutsy, no-holds-barred movie that tackles this burning (or should we say,
crawling) issue.

No, the lice are not in the celebrated tresses of “Switch”
star Jennifer Aniston: That would be too terrifying for even a devout horror
fan to witness. But they do make an appearance at a critical point in the plot,
and directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck thoughtfully stop the show so
take-charge caregiver Wally (Jason Bateman) can demonstrate the necessary steps
to take in order to delouse a house.

Not that Wally doesn’t have other concerns on his, um, mind.
Seven years ago, Wally got plastered on the very night his friend Kassie
(Aniston) was about to attempt artificial insemination with the seed of hunky
baby-daddy-for-hire Roland (Patrick Wilson). Unbeknownst to anyone else, Wally
semi-accidentally spilled Roland’s sample and replaced it with his own secret
ingredient. Clueless (and perhaps visually impaired) Kassie has never stopped
to wonder why her neurotic, brunette 6-year-old son, Sebastian (Thomas Robinson),
looks and behaves like a miniature carbon-copy of neurotic, brunette Wally and
bears no resemblance whatsoever to his perfectly composed, blond “father.”

Jennifer_Aniston_and_Jason_Bateman_in_THE_SWITCH_1_jpg_550x323.jpgKassie and Wally are each outfitted with an irritating pal.
She hangs out with a mouthy make-up artist (Juliette Lewis, whose slack-jawed
acting style has changed not a bit since “Cape Fear” and “Natural Born
Killers”) while he is stuck spilling his secrets to his wacky boss (Jeff
Goldblum); in reality, Kassie and Wally would probably run across the street to
get away from people like these two, but no one’s likely to mistake “The
Switch” for cinema verite.

“The Switch” is
very loosely based on a Jeffrey Eugenides’ short story titled “Baster,” and
it’s one of those oddball films that can’t seem to sustain a tone for very
long. The screenplay by Allan Loeb starts off on a coy note, then barrels
headlong into raunchiness before reversing course to settle into po-faced
seriousness. You might suspect each director had his mind set on making his own
kind of movie and they eventually came to a half-hearted compromise midway
through production.

Despite the major names in the cast, “The Switch” has the
underlit, slapped-together look of those quirky, low-budget pictures that never
go far beyond the film festival circuit. There are a few amusing lines and
ideas here and there, but the only thing holding the movie together is Bateman,
who gives it whatever emotional impact and warmth it has; Wally could easily
have been little more than a callous clown, but Bateman finds real tenderness
in this heart of this misguided guy. Wilson and Robinson are also very good,
although they’re hemmed in by the constraints of their characters.

As for Aniston, she continues to be the McDonald’s of
leading ladies: She delivers exactly what you expect, with no surprises and not
much flavor. As she’s done so many times before, Aniston runs through the Teri
Garr Gallery of Facial Expressions and Vocal Inflections, although the sparkle
and self-effacing wit that were always present in Garr’s performances only turn
up intermittently in Aniston’s work. Unwilling to step outside her comfort zone
(as she did in her first-rate performances in “The Object of My Affection” and
“The Good Girl”), Aniston has become an all-too-predictable — and too-often
reactive — presence; maybe it’s time for her to follow Wally’s example and
switch it up.