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‘Switch’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 10, 1991

Let's be fair. Director Blake Edwards could have been scouting locations in Ouagadougou when "All of Me" came out. Perhaps he was too busy perfecting glow-in-the-dark condoms for "Skin Deep" to catch "Ghost." Maybe he never saw "Big." Or "Like Father, Like Son." Or "Chances Are." Or . . .

How else to explain "Switch," Edwards's new out-of-body caper? In this misbegotten switcheroo, womanizer Steve (Perry King) gets a new lease on life as a female blonde. Iced by three former conquests (including JoBeth Williams), he winds up in Purgatory where a battle for his soul takes place. An off-screen God tells Steve his attitude towards women stinks. If he can find one woman who ever liked him, he can go to heaven. If he can't, blondish West Coast Satan (Bruce Martyn Payne) will get his soul. Satan puts in a twist of his own and Steve returns as Ellen Barkin.

The casting transformation is the movie's only blessing. Barkin's lively performance makes "Switch" funnier than it deserves to be. As a man trapped in a bombshell, she's an amusing, intra-gender disaster. She struts in wide strides. Her ankles turn to rubber when she's in high heels. She doesn't keep her knees together when she sits. She reaches for her crotch more than a decent woman should.

"You gotta be [bleepin'] Rembrandt to put on makeup," she exclaims.

But the manly lip-shtick wears thin. Edwards, who also scripted, doesn't know when enough's enough. He likes the heel gag so much, for instance, he keeps Barkin tottering throughout the movie. Why wouldn't she just wear low heels?

Edwards wants to leap deliriously between gender roles and stereotypes. But he treads on every possible corn, from heterosexual to lesbian. Barkin tangles with horny construction workers and lounge lizards. She has to fend off gay executive Lorraine Bracco. She plays basketball with Steve's best friend Jimmy Smits. But he's interested in a different one on one.

"I'm sick and tired of being treated like a piece of meat," she exclaims with post-fem ennui.

Smits is reduced to being sweetly supportive. Bracco's talents are wasted. Advertising executive Tony Roberts seems tired. Williams is too busy being a plot device to matter. Even Barkin loses steam. But that's because she's busy with a special female discovery, which doesn't even need to be given away. It's too easy to anticipate. Meant to be the ultimate switch, it's the movie's ultimate undoing.

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