DVD Review: SWITCH

Are people ever going to get tired of movies where some unlucky soul finds out what happens when a brand new technological innovation or social craze goes horribly wrong? To be fair to Frédéric Schoendoerffer's serviceable little thriller Switch, it's a decent piece of work, and undemanding entertainment that's nowhere near as throwaway as scaremongering cinema du jour like The Net. Still, despite all the hard work that's gone into it the whole thing feels as if it came out of some late-night brainstorming session where the writer thought 'Wouldn't it be freaky if...?' and was so pleased at how clever this was they forgot to finish editing the script.

Switch is slick, elegant filmmaking with a cast trying their hardest, and there are a few times when the plot stops jack-knifing through improbable twists and turns and the storytelling really starts to engage you. But none of this ultimately amounts to anything. Schoendoerffer never embraces how inherently contrived his premise is, never just goes for broke; in part because he plainly doesn't have the set pieces other action films do, but also because he never gives any indication he's capable of it. Switch is solid, undemanding viewing, but it has multiple opportunities to be something more, and frustratingly it never takes any of them.

Sophie (Karine Vanasse) is an illustrator who's fed up with her life in Montreal after missing out on yet another job opportunity and with neither social circle, boyfriend, or vacation time to take her mind off things. When a chance meeting points her towards Switch.com, a website where people arrange to trade time in each other's flats over the net, Sophie thinks why not, and arranges some time in Paris to cool down. But soon after arriving, armed police have raided Sophie's holiday apartment, she's arrested over the corpse that's just turned up in the bedroom - and Forgeat, the detective in charge of the case (Eric Cantona) tells Sophie all the evidence shows there is no Switch.com, she owns the house, she's never been to Canada... and she's the murderer.

Schoendoerffer, who co-wrote, is plainly well aware of how dumb this is going to sound to any attentive audience member who thinks about it for more than a couple of minutes. Which would be why Switch charges straight into a workaday chase thriller, with Sophie escaping from the police, desperate to prove her innocence, and the bemused Forgeat slowly wondering if maybe there's more going on here than he first surmised. To be fair, the film does sidestep a lot of the plot holes other, similar films have blithely stumbled into. The Big Reveal is no great shakes, and indeed the final confrontation is over so fast it falls pretty flat. But despite all the unanswered questions and frequent recourse to 'Oh, a wizard did it' or the like, at least there's no smash cut to 'It's because I have amnesia!'.

And there are moments when Switch looks like it might coalesce into something special. The opening montage is beautifully put together, smartly shot with brisk, confident editing, and Vanasse is absolutely charming in how happy she seems to be to have scored such a gorgeous home away from home. Schoendoerffer films the moments where everything goes to hell with surprising restraint, too. Being arrested and thrown into a foreign jail for a crime you didn't commit is presented as a grimly unsentimental waking dream, rather than turning the volume up to eleven and yelling at the heroine non-stop. Cantona is also impressive, the ex-footballer demonstrating some striking acting chops as the grizzled officer run slightly to seed.

It's just the suspicion sets in almost immediately that my God, the explanation for why on Earth anyone would go to such trouble to frame a complete stranger is going to be something really, really dumb, and Switch never succeeds in getting you to stop thinking about this once you've started. It does try. Again, there are moments when the story almost comes together - Sophie does some plausibly stupid things trying to work it all out, and suffers horribly as a result. People are not who they seem, and often in a good way. It turns out the twisted mastermind isn't entirely ridiculous, is even genuinely frightening, though they're sorely under-used.

But too much of the narrative is so half-hearted it's like an itch you can't quite reach. There's nothing to really rock anyone back in their seat, no really expressive use of scope or scale. For all the shaky-cam Schoendorffer throws in, the chase sequences go on for way too long and devolve into weary shuffling around rather than eliciting breakneck tension. The detectives' police work involves an uncomfortably high number of pointless arguments, snide looks and breathtakingly dumb snap decisions, to say nothing of grindingly obvious exposition. None of this makes Switch a bad film as such, but if it were a book, you'd be setting it aside every hour or so to go do something more important.

French action can aim much higher than this; Fred Cavaye's brilliant Point Blank is arguably every bit as daft, but that film tears along so fast and sets up each new set piece with such audacious finesse you either don't notice the writers fudging things or you don't care. Switch, by contrast, is the kind of storytelling where every time a character says something like 'And you know what? She owned the sort of illegal software that could destroy an entire website!' it feels like someone shrugging apologetically at you from behind the scenes. Sorry, they smile! We didn't think anyone would be paying attention to that! No, keep watching - the killer knifes someone real soon, promise. If that's all you want out of Switch, then by all means give it a shot. Just be aware you could do much better.

THE DISC:

Anchor Bay's UK DVD of Switch, available to buy now, gives the film a solid, if barebones home video release. The disc goes from the opening logo into trailers for Catch 44, Carjacked and The Wicker Tree, all of which can be skipped individually (and just to mention, kudos to whoever cut The Wicker Tree's trailer for making the film look far, far more memorable than it actually is). The main menu is a simple, static design over clips from the movie presented under an odd newsprint effect, but it's clear and easy to navigate and looks quite good. (It bears mentioning, though, that Anchor Bay are trying to push Cantona as the star in the UK - which is flatly not the case - presumably due to his fame playing for Manchester United.) The film has been divided into twelve chapter stops.

AUDIO:

The basic 2.0 stereo track is fine (Dolby 5.1 is also available). Dialogue is clear and pretty much always perfectly audible. Neither the score or the effects should bother anyone's speakers - again, there are no particularly ambitious set pieces here, and most of the soundtrack is relatively disposable stuff - but it's a pleasant enough mix. Removable subtitles are somewhat blocky and crude, but still easy enough to read, as well as well-written and free from grammatical or spelling mistakes.

VIDEO:

The picture is good. There's a fair amount of grain, though this seems to be at least partly a stylistic choice, and the darker scenes, shadowed or out of focus area do tend to get a bit too fuzzy. But it's definitely a very good standard definition transfer, with an impressive amount of sharpness and detail on more close-up shots, and it shows off Schoendoerffer's clean, cold colour palette and the better examples of DP Vincent Gallot's cinematography to great effect.

EXTRAS:

The only extra is the trailer, a crisp, efficient minute and three quarters that does a good job of making the film look a lot more exciting than it actually is, and to its credit avoids even hinting at the Big Reveal, much less giving it away.

Switch is definitely something of a disappointment. There's a fair amount to enjoy in here - some excellent direction, and two talented actors giving their all - but somehow it never really escalates into the kind of upmarket full-throttle mayhem it appears to think it is. Multiple directors, not least French ones, have got far more effective tension and suspense out of this kind of thing in recent years. Still, it's fairly solid entertainment despite its flaws, and if you want to check Switch out for yourself, Anchor Bay's UK DVD gives the film a very creditable, if bare-bones home video release that comes recommended.
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