By Scott Beggs | Film | April 1, 2014 |
By Scott Beggs | Film | April 1, 2014 |
As a body swap movie, 1999’s A Saintly Switch is unremarkable except that it features a black cast in a genre dominated by white suburbanite mothers learning to appreciate texting, and that it features an NFL team striving for Superb Owl glory. Originally airing on ABC’s The Wonderful World of Disney showcase, it’s exactly the kind of movie you’d expect to air on ABC’s The Wonderful World of Disney. Squeaky clean as dad’s station wagon and harmless as children’s Tylenol.
There’s nothing remarkable about it, except it was directed by Peter Bogdanovich.
The man who caught the second crest of the New Wave and road it to massive critical and Oscarological success with The Last Picture Show, the career cinephile, the AFI-commissioned filmmaker of films about filmmakers. This is the man who made a Hallmark card for ABC from the co-writer of Save the Dog! and the co-writer of Nothing In Particular Of Note.
Bankruptcy for great artists should be punched in the mouth.
That’s undoubtedly where this exercise in aggressive mediocrity came from. Bogdanovich has a rocky history — particularly with raw financial success — and he took the Mickey Mouse gig after filing bankruptcy for the second time within twelve years. It was also years after his initial popularity and years even after his last streak of filmmaking (that produced almost entirely flops). At the end of the day, exactly zero people should be surprised that making money isn’t at the top of Bogdanovich’s skillset.
On the other end of good fortune, it’s crystal clear why the New Orleans Saints would have agreed to appear in and offer their name to be pun-ified for this 1999 fantasy. They were a 6-and-10 team both years leading up the release and the second worst in all the land when the movie hit television sets. Suffice it to say, a fictional movie where David Alan Grier plays an aging quarterback and Vivica A. Fox plays the wife inside her aging quarterback husband was the only way they were going to see themselves on TV at The Big Game.
As you can imagine, the movie smiles its way through the typical body swap fare. Dan (Grier) and Sara (Fox) are fighting constantly, and their precocious kids know it. They’re in a new town (New Orleans) in a crappy old mansion (New Orleans!) and mystic voodoo (New Orleans!) swaps their bodies right around. Over the course of about an hour, they each learn how difficult it really is to throw footballs and do laundry, and how talented each of them is at throwing footballs and painting landscapes. Mutual appreciation commences, and warm fuzzies ensue.
There’s nothing of Bogdanovich’s personality here. None of the calm humanity or nuanced appeal to reality that earned him two Oscar nominations. Maybe that’s for the best, though. It’s the kind of film that plenty of filmmakers experience but keep in a dark corner or their career, so there’s no point looking for a signature drawn in thick ink. It’s hard to affix your name to anything over the phone.
This is by far the weirdest entry in Bogdanovich’s career, but the good news is that he’s not done creating chances to out-weird this one. To bury it somewhere in the middle where it belongs. He’s currently working on Squirrels to the Nuts — a story about a Broadway director helping a hooker-cum-actress whom he falls in love with. It’s very much a comeback movie, and it would be his first theatrical release since 2001.
Even though A Saintly Switch feels like Willy Wonka stamping out Hershey bars, it doesn’t do much to recontextualize or even recolor Bogdanovich’s unconventional career. He was a powerful force made invisible for a moment even as the Criterion crowd celebrated him, and he ended up making the most commercial thing in his body of work (and a body swap movie at that). Nothing can diminish that he’s an artist worth remembering, but this was a moment where commerce triumphed and the 1999 New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl.
You can also watch the entire movie on YouTube.
Scott Beggs is the Managing Editor of Pajiba.