Switch (1991) — Finding out how the other side lives

“You talk like a man, you fight like a man. I guess you must have been one.”

Justin’s rating: Never trust a curly-haired boss

Justin’s review: I watched Switch more than a few times as a teen. It’s not that I really liked the movie or thought that it had a gripping plot. It was simply that Switch was part of a collection of films that sported a character I had a crush on — and that crush was not Jimmy Smits. Sorry, Jimmy, your Princess Leia is in another starship.

So yeah, as embarrassing as it is to confess, I would pop this in to scope out Ellen Barkin’s Amanda. I wasn’t deeply in love with her or anything, but something about her disorganized swagger here got my heart thumping. It wasn’t until years later that I thought back on this flick and realized how deeply weird it was.

Out of all of the body swapping movies around the late ’80s and early ’90s, Switch may boast the most convoluted premise. There’s this jerk womanizer named Steve who gets his life handed to him by three of his former lovers. Tossed into the afterlife, Steve becomes the latest testing ground for supernatural reform. The catch? He’s going to come back as a woman named Amanda with the quest to get one woman to genuinely like him. If he can do that, he’ll go to heaven; if not, he’s damned to hell.

Now as “Amanda,” Steve has to get a handle on life as a woman and all of the complications and quirks that go with it. I need to stress that this is very much a man’s brain, personality, and preferences jammed inside a new body — and Steve has a right to freak out about the change in circumstances while trying to barrel through life as he always has. Except that this time, it’s not going to work.

Of course, like any body swap film, Switch is an excuse for our lead to milk a lot of humor by acting in a way typically unbecoming for that person. Ellen Barkin brings a very exuberant physical presence to the role. She’s really quite amusing while strutting about with the same forcefulness as Steve’s old self. To gain an advantage, Amanda blackmails one of Steve’s killers into teaching him how to play the role of a woman better.

At first, Amanda is just as much of a jerk as Steve used to be, pushing people around like a alpha male and gleefully blackmailing everyone with info from Steve’s past. But gradually Amanda’s “infected” by either the role, the hormones, or learning a life lesson from experience.

As much fun as it is to see Barkin as a girl play a girl who’s actually a guy turned into a girl, Switch never finds its clarity with the implications of this premise. Are we supposed to accept Amanda as a woman or as a trapped man? Does Steve become a woman? Is the romance straight or gay or what? And what about when Amanda becomes (accidentally) pregnant and then framed for her own murder? What are the sexual and gender dynamics here, and why do I think Jimmy Smits is creepy in pretty much any role I’ve ever seen him?

I guess you either have an entire thesis for your critical film studies class in one movie or need to simply stop asking questions to witness the journey of an unrepentant scumbag finding a softer side. Unfortunately, as strange of a reincarnation as this is and as magnetic Barkin’s performance, Switch has a harder time than it should bringing any actual comedy to bear. Like Amanda, this movie is a hot mess that can’t decide what to do with the cards on the table.


  • The slight mullet: A hairstyle of the early 1990s
  • Getting into a hot tub in your underwear looks so uncomfortable
  • Dead by minute 7 — this movie wastes no time
  • You have to hop into the afterlife in whatever state you died
  • Amanda freaking out when she tries to go pee for the first time
  • “I’m a man… I’m Amanda.”
  • “You are going to teach me everything I wanted to know about women but was afraid to ask.”
  • Amanda cannot walk in heels
  • “I always cry when I’m really, really happy.”
  • What’s in Apartment J on West 57th?
  • If you’re a medium, you have to be good at goofy voices
  • $41,611 for a clothes shopping trip?
  • This film was indirectly referenced in numerous episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. In the original television spots for the film, Jimmy Smits name was announced in an unusual way: “Ellen Barkin. Switch. Jimmy Smits. Starts Friday.” The writers of MST3K found it amusing that Smits’ name was announced after the title. In various episodes, a character would say “Jimmy Smits” whenever the word “switch” was uttered.

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