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'The Switch' a great date movie

Photo by Macall Polay

Photo by Macall Polay

The Switch (PG-13)

3 stars out of 4

Long before her stint as Rachel Green on "Friends" was over, Jennifer Aniston inherited the position of America's Sweetheart once held by Meg Ryan, then Julia Roberts and later by Sandra Bullock. To her credit, Aniston has regularly turned down a lot of fluff productions in favor of gutsier, low-visibility arthouse fare ("The Good Girl," "Management," "Friends with Money") and sports a fairly balanced, above average resume.

"The Switch" doesn't even come close to being arthouse yet is equally far from toxic mainstream swill like "The Bounty Hunter." It's smarter than its hackneyed premise would indicate, fiendishly funny in spots and might just be the best date movie of the season.

As the by-choice single mother Kassie, Aniston isn't given much to do other than to look good (not hard) and react to her co-lead Justin Bateman (also not that difficult). This actually works out fine because Bateman's character Wally isn't your average romantic leading man and Bateman is a superb actor who inhabits his edgy, neurotic character with ease.

Seven years ago, Kassie informed her BFF (read non-sexual) Wally (Bateman) she was tired of waiting for Mr. Right and was in the market for a sperm donor. Wally gladly volunteered for the position but was gently shot down by Kassie because he's just so negative and angry most of the time. With symptoms closely resembling Asperger Syndrome, Wally also lacks a filter between his brain and his mouth.

It would be impossible to continue this review without revealing a huge plot twist, so if you don't want to know it, skip the next paragraph.

With some help from gal pal Debbie (Juliette Lewis), Kassie finds her ideal donor. He's Roland (Patrick Wilson), a smart, handsome, patently vanilla, All-American type who is donating solely for the money. In a cleverly written sequence that makes total sense when viewed on the screen, the jealous Wally replaces Roland's sample with his own but because he's fall-down drunk at the time he doesn't remember anything the next day.

After confirming she's pregnant, Kassie decides to move back home to Minnesota from Manhattan -- citing a more child-rearing-friendly environment. When a cushy TV producer job offer comes her way, she returns to New York with son Sebastian (Thomas Robinson, nearly perfect) and still doesn't want a romance with Wally.

Based very loosely on the slightly dark short story "Baster" by Jeffrey Eugenides ("The Virgin Suicides," "Middlesex"), "The Switch" is decidedly commercial with more than enough rom-com humor yet never once feels like it is pandering to any particular demographic.

Women will immediately adore Robinson, swoon over Wilson and eventually embrace Bateman. Guys won't have any problem looking at Aniston, will appreciate Bateman's prickly, anti-hero attitude and relish the scenes he shares with his level-headed, often acid-tinged-advice-spewing boss (a superb Jeff Goldblum).

"The Switch" is light years better than "Blades of Glory," the last feature from co-directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck. Playing it safe while simultaneously taking what some would call audience-repelling gambles takes nerve and pluck. In one of the worst years for movies in four decades, "The Switch" is a welcomed diamond in the rough. (Miramax)