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.
Set in the 1970s male-dominated news world the dashing mustached Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is indeed a legend as San Diego's top-rated anchorman. He and his news team--including field reporter and all-around ladies man Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) sports cowboy Champ Kind (David Koechner) and mindless weatherman Brick Tamland (Steve Carell)--live life large as local television icons boozing and womanizing with the best of them. As Ron puts it they have been coming to the "same party for 12 years--and in no way is that depressing." But their world is about to turn upside down when an ambitious newswoman Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) is hired by the managing news producer (Fred Willard) to spice things up. The guys aren't worried at first treating her like any other woman that is to say sexually harassing her--and despite that Veronica and Ron hit it off. But soon Ms. Corningstone's true agenda is revealed--she wants to land an anchor spot and she isn't about the let anything stand in her way including a perfectly coiffed slightly hairy idiot newsman named Ron Burgundy. Of course this means war.
No longer is Ferrell just a side character illuminating the proceedings with his hilarity. Along with pals Jack Black Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller (who make strategic cameos in Anchorman--but we aren't telling how 'cause that'll ruin the fun) the former Saturday Night Live alum has become one of the new kings of cinematic comedy. People expect Ferrell to be gut-bustin' funny now and luckily he delivers once again as Ron Burgundy. With a voice that "could make a wolverine purr " Burgundy is all hot air great hair and polyester debonair a dim bulb who tries to understand the news stories he recites but gives up quickly because it requires too much thought and simply reads the teleprompter exactly as it is written. Ferrell is at his best when he is allowed to free-associate either by himself (while getting ready to go on the air) or with his co-stars Rudd Koechner and Carell (singing a strangely harmonious rendition of "Afternoon Delight"). Keep your eyes on Carell--he is a comic gem on the rise. The Daily Show co-star had a brief but memorable turn in last year's Bruce Almighty as an anchorman (ironic huh?) Jim Carrey messes with but in Anchorman Carell is absolutely side-splitting as Brick who doesn't have a single brain cell working rattling off non sequiturs like "I ate an entire red candle " when talking about a party the night before. Christina Applegate subjected to this lunacy holds her own god bless her and does an admirable job playing the straight woman to this group of wackos.
Adam McKay former SNL head writer makes his directorial and screenwriting debut with Anchorman. The story has a fairly classic and simplistic framework--Burgundy starts out on top falls to rock bottom and climbs his way back up again--but it's pretty evident early on that with the likes of Ferrell and the rest all McKay has to do is turn the camera on them and let it all happen. Watching Burgundy incoherent breaking down in a phone booth after his dog is supposedly booted off a bridge by an irate motorcyclist or the news team rumble where San Diego news rivals go at each other with nasty weapons it's funny stuff. But rather than just let the comedy come from the story á la Old School Anchorman throws in some antics that probably sounded comical on paper but end up being silly and forced. For example Veronica and Ron going to "pleasure town " (sexual bliss) with animated furry animals and rainbows instead of seeing the love act itself or the gang trying to get out of a bear pit after they've woken up the hibernating animals that's a little over the top. At least Anchorman never goes for the toilet humor--nope you won't find a vomit urine semen or poop joke in this film. You will however find gratuitous shots of Ferrell's hairy chest. Shiver.