Blake Edwards's obssessive concern with cross-dressing and sexual role switching has hopefully been purged in SWITCH, an obvious, dim-witted rehash of GOODBYE CHARLIE, saved from total failure by Ellen Barkin's bright, energetic slapstick performance.
When obnoxious, sexist ad man Steve Brooks (Perry King) is murdered by three of his ex-girlfriends, led by rich, cynical Margo Brofman (JoBeth Williams), Brooks finds himself in purgatory, where God decides to return him to earth to find one female who likes him--only then he will be able to
enter Heaven. But, at the promptings of the Devil (Bruce Martyn Payne), Brooks is returned to earth in the form of a woman (Ellen Barkin). Calling herself Amanda, Brooks convinces the apartment house manager and his coworkers at F&B Advertising that she is Steve Brooks's half-sister and that Steve
has left his job to start life anew in Tahiti. By blackmailing Steve's boss Arnold Friedkin (Tony Roberts), Amanda gets herself hired by F&B Advertising and meets Walter Stone (Jimmy Smits), who realizes that Amanda is actually Steve.
Amanda also pays a visit to Steve's killer Margo and enlists her to help teach him/her the ways of women. Amanda proves her worth to the firm by courting gay executive Sheila Faxton (Lorraine Bracco), getting her to switch her multimillion dollar cosmetics account to F&B. After a barroom brawl,
Amanda and Walter stagger back to Amanda's apartment, where they fall asleep. In the morning, Amanda discovers that Walter had sex with her. While they are arguing, Margo appears at the apartment to tell Amanda that Steve's body has been found. Margo plants the murder weapon in Amanda's apartment
and Amanda is then accused of murdering Steve after the police search the apartment. She is brought to trial and convicted of murder but judged insane because she insists to the court that she's Steve. In jail, she finds that she is pregnant from Walter. They marry and Amanda gives birth to a
daughter. She looks into her newborn daughter's eyes and realizes that her daughter loves her. Having found a woman who loves him/her, Amanda dies and Steve's spirit is admitted to Heaven.
Perhaps, too, Blake Edwards's late 60s hip naughtiness can also be consigned to the Elysian fields. Edwards's films have always had a pretentious, overbearing attitude toward sexual politics, as if a male chauvinist is hurriedly trying to demonstrate his changed sensibilities during a time of
purges of the politically correct. But for the past 20 years, the new Blake Edwards reads more like the new Nixon of 1968--more of the same in a different package. And this conservative undercurrent has marred his most accomplished films of the last 15 years (the gay sub-plot of 10, Robert Vaughn
in drag in S.O.B., Kim Basinger's performance in BLIND DATE, the polemical moments of VICTOR/VICTORIA).
SWITCH is perhaps the culmination of it all. The film plays like an outdated sex farce and, perhaps, kept to that, it could have been a pleasant, albeit politically incorrect, film. But SWITCH has to show that it is sensitive to women and doing that means, for Blake Edwards, to graft onto the
story dialogue lines like "You're cruel, like a man" or God informing Steve that he can't get into heaven because he's "so consistently rotten to women." Despite all of its declamations, SWITCH is actually a leering, pie-eyed, one-joke sex gag, as if torn from the cartoons of PLAYBOY.
Most of the jokes concern Barkin's lewd observations about her body with the farcical premise relegated to the back burner, only to be trotted out to clumsily pull the narrative to its conclusion. And yet, Edwards directs this like an impotent roue. The risque situations begin with a benign
debauchery that collapses before the situation is taken to its logical conclusion; when Amanda and Sheila begin foreplay, Amanda simply faints before the going gets tough. Likewise when Walter and Amanda bed down together, they are seen to fall asleep, with the viewer informed afterward that, in
fact, they fornicated.
SWITCH is played for cheap laughs, with any opportunity for character development or sexual enlightenment firmly ignored. But like a jewel in the murky depths, Ellen Barkin beams through with a wonderful, all-out comic performance which, given a better film, may well have been a classic. Barkin,
however, is surrounded by nasty, bitter performances by JoBeth Williams (who nevertheless delivers a funny, mean-spirited ripost to an animal rights activist), Tony Roberts and Lorraine Bracco, and with Jimmy Smits taking his cue from a bad revival of GUYS AND DOLLS.
When Edwards is good (BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S, A SHOT IN THE DARK, VICTOR/VICTORIA), he is very good. But, as always seems to be the case with great comic directors, when he is bad he is very bad. SWITCH is very bad. (Excessive profanity, sexual situations.)
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