Formulaic 'switch' does deliver
Photo courtesy of Miramax Films, Jason Bateman stars as Wally and Jennifer Aniston stars as Kassie Larson in Miramax Films' "The Switch."

Rated: PG-13. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes. 2.5 stars.

Why does Hollywood feel the need to make unmarried, childless women in their late 30s feel like empty vessels of wasted womanhood? OK, maybe there's not some sinister plan to undermine the leaps women have made in defining themselves on their own terms, but with two films this year — "The Back-Up Plan" and now "The Switch" — that involve near-hysterical, single women getting artificially inseminated before it's "too late," it's hard not to feel disheartened.

The real culprit is likely a dearth of leading roles for women of this age, combined with risk-averse studio executives making entirely uninspired attempts to appeal to the growing demographic of successful, single women with extra money in their designer purses. But if these movies must be made, then "The Switch" is a best-case scenario.

The object being switched is a jar of fresh semen awaiting its fate at Kassie's (Jennifer Aniston) "Getting Pregnant Party," which she throws in an attempt to make the whole experience feel less strange. But as the partyers dance to "Papa Don't Preach," cheering on the handsome donor (found on Craigslist) as he enters the bathroom, it's all very, very strange.

As much as her friends exclaim that Kassie is doing something brave and honorable, her poorly rationalized decision is anything but sympathetic. Her neurotic best friend Wally (Jason Bateman) agrees and is a little jealous, too. After getting himself good and drunk, he stumbles into the bathroom, makes the all-important switch, and then conveniently blacks out.

When she finds out she's pregnant, Kassie leaves New York to be close to her family. Seven years later, she returns with doe-eyed Sebastian (Thomas Robinson) in tow. She resumes her friendship with Wally, who is eventually forced to remember his misdeeds when he sees so much of himself — good and bad — in the melancholy boy.

Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck and written by Allan Loeb, "The Switch" follows the romantic comedy formula so closely that you can almost set your watch to it: a friendship with unspoken romantic tension, wacky sidekick co-workers who exist only as sounding boards and sources of inappropriate jokes (Juliette Lewis and Jeff Goldblum, both hitting career low points here), and an overly precocious child who emotionally manipulates the characters and the audience.

With so much working against the film, it's a genuine surprise when you find yourself entertained anyway, thanks to the strong comedic leads. Though Aniston's sweetheart charm is more sedated these days, she can still make what is an otherwise paper-thin character likable. And Patrick Wilson, as the sperm donor/love interest, brings an unexpected vulnerability to what could easily have been just a stereotypical stud.

But it's Jason Bateman who makes "The Switch" more than just tolerable. Sure his character's a drag who can kill the magic of a first date in 30 seconds flat (easily the film's best scene), but Bateman knows how to walk the line between abhorrent and endearing and, because the story is told from Wally's perspective rather than Kassie's, he's the film's saving grace.

If "The Switch" doesn't offend progressive single women, then there are others who could easily fill in. With a vague but lucrative television career, Kassie is the rare single mother who doesn't seem to struggle with money, time or loneliness, and never responsibly addresses her son's blatant yearning for a male role model. But with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly and Bateman already trading barbs on the matter, we'll let the 24-hour news channels debate that one.

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