The Austin Chronicle


Directed by Blake Edwards. Starring Ellen Barkin, Jimmy Smits, Jobeth Williams, Lorraine Bracco, Tony Roberts, Perry King.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., May 17, 1991

The gender-bender dud Switch doesn't just put a man in a dress -- it puts him in a woman's body as well. Unfortunately, it's an ill-fitting conceit. Played strictly as a farce, it might have worked: a womanizer (Steve) is killed by three ex-girlfirends wronged by him, but is sent back to earth as a female (Amanda) and given the chance to redeem himself in the eyes of womankind, so that he can enter heaven. But about halfway through the film, director/screenwriter Edwards -- who has seldom exhibited a knack for disciplined scripts -- loses sight of his objective (if he ever had one and Switch falls apart at the seams. In his similarly themed 1982 film Victor/Victoria, Edwards successfully looked at the blurred distinctions between men and women, straight and gay. Even at its most didactic, that film provided some entertaining food for thought about sexual identity and roleplaying. But Switch is so jumbled and unfocused, the only point Edwards seems to make is that he's not quite sure what the point is. Predictably, the film gives its sexist protagonist a taste of his own medicine: he has to endure condescension from his peers, sexual advances from his boss, lewd remarks from construction workers, and so on. It's supposed to be an education in the feminine mystique, but it's so badly developed that you never see any believable change in the Steve/Amanda character. A stranded subplot in which Steve/Amanda uses sexual wiles to seduce a wealthy lesbian in order to obtain a lucrative ad account never gels. It's as if Edwards wanted to make a few observations about heterosexism and homophobia but couldn't figure out how to integrate them into the story, so he threw in a lesbian for good measure. The only redeeming thing in Switch is Barkin's vulgar and adept physical performance of a man literally trapped in a woman's body. She's in a constant state of discomfort, whether it's trying to walk in high heels (a sight gag that quickly gets old), scratching her breasts, or sitting with her legs apart in a tight miniskirt. Her presence, however, is a small consolation in a movie that takes the battle of the sexes and turns it into a pointless skirmish.

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