August 20, 2010 at 1:00 am

Tom Long Film Review: 'The Switch' -- GRADE: C+

Review: Jason Bateman shines in an otherwise tepid 'The Switch'

Jennifer Aniston and Bateman are solid, but can't lift the plot. (Miramax)

Jason Bateman deserves better.

That's the first thing that surfaces after seeing "The Switch." It's not a bad film, really, just sort of average. But Bateman is so good in it -- natural, funny, yet full of real emotion -- that you immediately want to see him again in a better film. Somebody give this guy a shot at an Oscar.

This certainly isn't that shot, although it is Bateman's movie all the way. Jennifer Aniston has top billing, but that's just because she's Jennifer Aniston, America's onetime sweetheart. And she's fine. But it's Bateman's film, and he almost pulls it off despite too many plot contrivances.

He plays Wally, a somewhat cynical and neurotic but essentially good financial analyst in New York City. His best friend is Kassie (Aniston), a TV producer. He has a thing for her but has settled for a long-term friendship.

As the film begins she announces she wants a baby and plans to be artificially inseminated. He is aghast, probably because he wishes the child could be his. Kassie goes ahead with the idea and finds a suitable donor in Roland (Patrick Wilson), a married college professor. Kassie's brash best friend (Juliette Lewis) throws her a party where the donation will be donated and the seed planted (privately, of course).

Wally gets drunk and ends up in a bathroom that just happens to hold the donation in a container. He unintentionally destroys the donation, and then clumsily substitutes his own.

Kassie gets pregnant and decides to move home to Minnesota. Seven years later she returns to New York City with young Sebastian (sincerely cute Bryce Robinson), her neurotic but essentially good child. She immediately buddies up with Wally again, but then she also decides to call Roland.

A romance blossoms between Roland and Kassie, even as Wally and Sebastian begin building a strong bond. You can see the complications coming like bullet train.

Based on a story by Detroit-born Jeffrey Eugenides that was adapted by Allan Loeb ("21") and directed by the unlikely team of Josh Gordon and Will Speck ("Blades of Glory"), this film could have gone the way of broad comedy, high-issue morality or cutesy romance.

To the credit of all involved it sticks to a sort of middle road, making the relationship between Wally and son honestly touching while using Roland as too-obvious clumsy comic relief. This sort of drama/comedy/romance balancing act is tough to pull off, and the film really teeters when it reaches the moment of Big Revelation.

Like so many movies, the entire second half of the story revolves around Wally not having the guts to tell Kassie the truth about his parenting and love, with no clear reason given for his reticence. The reason is if he tells her the movie is over in an hour.

Still, the way Bateman makes his way through all this is wonderful to watch; if only he was making his way through something stronger.

"The Switch" tries to have it all but ends up with not much. It's one of those "nice try" movies where a difficult tone is undermined by weak mechanics. Again, nice try, but ...

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Jason Bateman -- funny and full of emotion -- stars as a secret sperm ... (Miramax)