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Xchange (2001) Review

Xchange was directed by Allan Moyle (Empire Records, Pump Up the Volume), written by Christopher Pelham and Leopold St-Pierre (Diamond Dogs, La Maison Deschenes), and stars Stephen Baldwin (The Lost Treasure, Blood Pageant), Pascale Bussieres (When Night is Falling, August 32nd on Earth), Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks, Tesla), Charles Edwin Powell (15/Love, Screamers), and Kim Coates (Neon Lights, See for Me). It’s about a man who has unknowingly swapped bodies with a contract killer, pursuing his own body to get it back and stop a potential attack.

The Plot: Swapping bodies or minds often works when the narrative allows itself to have fun with its concept and explore the abilities that the circumstances provide. Xchange starts off on the right foot by showing the innate silliness in the threat, but it loses itself with a generic and eventually convoluted approach to its story.

Evidently “tomorrow” will heighten the cutthroat business activities that litter today’s (yesterday’s?) landscape, as the CEO of a consulting firm is killed by Fisk (MacLachlan) with a small homing missile. Talk about overkill. In New York, businessman Toffler (Coates) suffers the consequences of the killing, as his boss tells him he needs to be at a board meeting later today to pick a new leader. New tech comes into play here, as Toffler uses the “Xchange” system to swap bodies with a willing host, who turns out to be Fisk, but this doesn’t mean much to Toffler yet.

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It’s a decent premise, but there are some questions that needed to be answered that are left up in the air, like a) shouldn’t the people swapping bodies know who they are, and b) do conference calls not exist in the future? Pelham and St-Pierre tip their hands a little early by making this decision, allowing Quayle (Powell) to slip up by taking questions from reporters like Madeline (Bussieres) at a press conference, all but confirming he had something to do with his father’s death.

Xchange doesn’t continue on its corporate story though, instead, it complicates things by assigning Toffler to an artificial body (every one of these bodies looks like Baldwin) and tasking him and eventually Madeline to stop a terrorist attack with the Xchange corporation as an added threat.

Slip-ups are spotted easily, but the decision to completely dump the intriguing potential of an espionage story is the bigger mistake. The writers go the easy way, but they handle it competently.

The Characters: With the premise that Moyle is working with, there’s added difficulty to create differentiations between characters, as the actors are playing characters that are in different bodies, and the main character switches bodies a second time. This alone takes time to get used to, and any personalities are lost in the intersections.

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Toffler is a man high up on the corporate ladder, but, other than taking the brunt of the press’s questions, Xchange doesn’t clue the audience in on what kind of man he really is. Run-of-the-mill traits like making him apprehensive about “floating” (the in-universe slang for swapping bodies) and a bit sleazy are there, but the writers don’t go farther than that. Clunky exposition confirms he used to have a relationship with Madeline – though we’re not treated to any chemistry.

It takes a longer, stiffer spiel to get any motivations for the actions (obviously) taken by Quayle to get an explanation, and when that does happen, it’s a flat one that doesn’t do much with the premise. Boiling it all down to money is fine, but underwhelming. Fisk isn’t on screen for long, in his own body anyways, so we’re left to assume the same thing is true for his involvement.

Relationships are shaky at best, with Xchange’s writers opting to focus more on the quest to return everyone’s bodies back to their respective consciousnesses but forget to make anyone identifiable before making the leaps required to keep all of the switching coherent.

The Thrills: Despite losing sight of the more interesting setup in favor of a lesser follow-up, Moyle is able to make Xchange moderately exciting with a number of threats that clamp down on Toffler’s already difficult task of catching a moving target.

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Once he’s made his way into Fisk’s body, the realization that anyone could be in control of a body that isn’t their own, and on top of that, fostering an identity that doesn’t match. The writers never go overboard with the abilities, keeping the believability at least somewhat in check, and make good use of them too via scenes of Fisk’s men attempting to take Toffler down using stolen identities. For added effect, Xchange utilizes an AI smart home system to give the fugitive a fighting chance against his assailants, and at a later point reintroduces the homing missile from the intro.

Pelham and St-Pierre do add one too many time constraints onto the proceedings though; one coming from the impending attack being cooked up by the terrorist force, which fits the bill better than the second one, which is a time limit on the clone body that Toffler is inhabiting. He only has 53 hours in the body before it overloads and liquifies.

It’s over the top in its threat but ultimately doesn’t add anything because the movie doesn’t require anything aside from the permanent maneuvering the protagonist will have to do for the rest of his life, assuming he’s not taken out by a disguised hitman.

The chases and encounters with skeptical authority figures are decently done, but the subplot about the ambiguity of the Xchange corporation feels tacked on as the movie periodically cuts back to their headquarters to show their distress over the effects this incident could have on their image. It’s a misallocation of screen time since it barely links with the aforementioned stressors, but the movie as a whole is still engaging.

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The Technics: Trimark studios specialized in releasing movies made on a budget, which helps to temper any expectations of a large scale that one might have before watching. That being said, Xchange is a decently put-together film; better than many of its contemporaries but still nothing exemplary.

Shooting largely on location instead of making sets that require more funds for lighting, set dressing, and storyboarding gives the movie a believability that it otherwise wouldn’t have had in different circumstances; it looks like any modern metropolis one could think of, but that’s partly the point. Some minor additions like stock market statistics being placed on taxis and occasional sights of future tech like freezers full of vacuum-sealed clone bodies and AI systems add to the setting too, but with the obvious limitations, the movie never looks like it’s in a future that would’ve invented something like body swapping.

Worldbuilding is sometimes present with slang for people on different rungs of the societal ladder (“corpie” for businessmen, “floaters” for those who enjoy the swapping of bodies, and “GEFs” (Genetically Engineered Facsimiles) for the clone bodies), but it doesn’t merit the screen time devoted to it, like watching Toffler venture into a club and meet a woman who explains everything he should already know to him. Since this is ultimately a routine thriller, it needed a bit of a trim because the 110 minutes of this plot can run ragged.

Ragged and familiarly plotted it may be, Xchange is at least able to put a different spin on tropes and have them performed by a good cast. It won’t blow (or swap) anyone’s mind, but it’s decent.

Xchange is currently available on DVD and Digital platforms, including free with ads on VUDU. And if you want more like it, FilmTagger can make some suggestions.

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