In Switching Channels, Kotcheff attempts two styles he’s inept at directing—madcap and slapstick. He’s got Ned Beatty, who can act in both those styles, and Beatty does okay. He’s not any good, but one can’t hold the film’s failings against him.
But for his other buffoon, Kotcheff uses Christopher Reeve. The audience is supposed to dislike Reeve because he’s vain, wealthy and a nice guy. One of the biggest laughs in the film is supposed to be at Reeve’s expense, when he’s in an acrophobia-induced fit. Reeve’s got some decent moments (particularly at the beginning of the film), which makes it all the more unfortunate.
The hero of the film is Burt Reynolds, who doesn’t so much give a performance as audition for his subsequent sitcom. He and Reeve are rivals for Kathleen Turner’s affections… though not really. Turner and Reynolds have zero chemistry, making any romantic possibilities laughable.
If the film continued where it opened, with Reeve and Turner meeting and romancing in a tranquil Montréal resort, Switching Channels probably would’ve worked. Turner’s good. She’s just not the film’s protagonist and so, when it pretends she’s important to it, the film fails.
The film—and Kotcheff—do her and Reeve the most disservice.
Though set in Chicago, it’s a very Canadian one. City hall is apparently in an office park.
There’s some good supporting work from Henry Gibson and George Newbern’s endearing as Reynolds’s flunky.
Between Reynolds’s non-acting and Kotcheff’s awkwardness, it doesn’t have a chance.
Directed by Ted Kotcheff; screenplay by Jonathan Reynolds, based on a play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur; director of photography, François Protat ; edited by Thom Noble; music by Michel Legrand; production designer, Anne Pritchard; produced by Martin Ransohoff; released by TriStar Pictures.
Starring Kathleen Turner (Christy Colleran), Burt Reynolds (John L. Sullivan IV), Christopher Reeve (Blaine Bingham), Ned Beatty (Roy Ridnitz), Henry Gibson (Ike Roscoe), George Newbern (Siegenthaler), Al Waxman (Berger), Ken James (Warden Terwilliger), Barry Flatman (Zaks), Ted Simonett (Tillinger), Anthony Sherwood (Carvalho), Joe Silver (Mordsini) and Charles Kimbrough (The Governor).