Producers: Lawrence Grey, Ben Everard, Nicole King Solaka, Jennifer Garner, McG and Mary Viola   Director: McG    Screenplay: Victoria Strouse and Adam Sztykiel   Cast: Jennifer Garner, Ed Helms, Emma Myers, Brady Noon, Matthias Schweighöfer, Xosha Roquemore, Bashir Salahuddin, Paul Scheer, Lincoln Sykes, Theodore Sykes, Fortune Feimster, Ned Bellamy, Pete Holmes, Cyrus Arnold, Vanessa Carrasco, River Cuomo, Patrick Wilson, Scott Shriner, Brian Bell and Rita Moreno   Distributor: Netfix

Grade: D

Shoehorning a Christmas-oriented subplot into what’s basically a multiple body-switch scenario, McG’s frantically overdone comedy simultaneously exhausts and irritates.  Though based on the 2010 pre-schooler picture book “Bedtime for Mommy” by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, the screenplay by Victoria Strouse and Adam Sztykiel pretty much jettisons that little tome’s simple story in favor of a “Freaky Friday” times three plot that wastes the efforts of a game cast, who are driven under McG’s broad direction to spasms of hysteria that only reinforce the flatness of the material they’re trying so desperately to bring to life.  The result is like a bad network sitcom cruelly extended to feature length.

Jennifer Garner and Ed Helms play Jess and Bill, a suburban couple attempting futilely to interest their teens, CC (Emma Myers) and Wyatt (Brady Noon) in what they pronounce the family’s holiday traditions.  No dice.  Even baby Miles (twins Lincoln and Theodore Sykes) and Pickles, the family bulldog, show minimal interest.

That state of affairs is symptomatic of the fissures within the family.  CC excels at soccer, and is intent on securing a spot on the national team; Jess, a talented architect working for promotion to partner in a prestigious firm, wants her daughter to think in more pragmatic terms.  Wyatt, on the other hand, is a science whiz angling for early admission to Yale, while Bill, the happy-go-lucky band leader at the kids’ high school, is concerned that he’d be leaving home too soon.  The teens, of course, consider their parents fuddy-duddies.

A strange thing happens when the whole family—including Pickles, for script reasons—visit the Griffith Observatory where Wyatt intends to use the telescope to witness a once-in-a-lifetime celestial alignment.  There’s an unfortunate mishap with the scope, though, just as Angelica (Rita Moreno), a mysterious old lady, snaps their photo.  CC winds up in Jess’s body, and vice-versa, and the same kind of swap occurs between Wyatt and Bill.  To complicate matters further, Miles and Pickles switch bodies too.  Angelica tells them that to reverse things they must “fix what’s broken” before the alignment disappears from the sky in a week.  They take that to mean they must fix the telescope by then. 

But the next seven days are crammed with plans.  Wyatt has an interview with Yale representatives, and CC a game where she’ll be scouted for the national team.  Jess has a presentation to a client that will determine whether she gets her promotion, and Bill has a gig scheduled with his band Dad or Alive (his mates are Wheezer members River Cuomo, Patrick Wilson, Scott Shriner and Brian Bell).  So all four have to “fill in” for their swap partners, with disastrous results that are meant to be hilarious but barely elicit a chuckle, because they either depend on fart jokes (in the case of Jess’s presentation), dumb slapstick (in the case of CC’s game), or implausible ineptitude (Bill’s concert and Wyatt’s interview).  Meanwhile the weird behavior of Miles and Pickles cause consternation for the Prussian-style neighbor Rolf (Matthias Schweighöfer, using one of those echt-German comic accents) they’re left with—a situation that is particularly cringe-worthy.

The effort to sweeten the mix with nice things that result from the switches is no more successful.  Bill’s Wyatt upends the kid’s nerdy reputation, besting the by-the-numbers bully Hunter (Cyrus Arnold) while catching the eye of Wyatt’s crush Ariana (Vanessa Carrasco); and by enlisting the help of Jess’s team, CC’s version of her mother overcomes the attempt of her sleazy competitor (Paul Scheer) to snatch the promotion Jess deserves.  And though the kids need second chances to overcome their parents’ klutziness in standing in for them, the breaks come of course; the only question is whether the youngsters will take advantage of them.  After all, through the experience they’ve learned to appreciate what dreams their parents gave up for them and why they’re so concerned about the decisions they might make.

As to reversing the switch, the script naturally raises a succession of obstacles to fixing the telescope, but the real issue is what “fixing what’s broken” means.  You know the answer without having to be told.

Still, one can imagine that the movie, as formulaic and ineptly constructed as it is, might have been tolerable were it not so heavy-handedly done.  McG encourages everybody in the cast to play their scenes at a “Spinal Tap” level of eleven.  The result is an epidemic of crude mugging that infects not just Garner, Helms, Myers and Noon but folks in smaller roles as well—Schweighöfer, Scheer, Arnold, Bashir Salahuddin as Jess’s co-worker, Fortune Feimster as CC’s coach, among many others.  Even when Moreno tries to underplay, it comes off as overplaying.  The effect is perpetually grating, and you have to blame McG’s ham-fisted direction for it.

On the technical side, “Family Switch” is competently made, with Jennifer Spence’s production design, Susie DeSanto’s costumes and Marc Spicer’s cinematography all solid and the music by Pinar Toprak suitably jaunty.  Brian Olds’s editing can be criticized, though, for letting the picture run on too long.  Of course, significant shortening would have jettisoned whole sequences, but that wouldn’t have constituted much of a loss.

With only a tenuous link to the holiday season, the movie fails simply as an over-plotted, underwhelming body-swap farce marked by an irritatingly frenzied desire to please.  Switch it off, please.