Partner-swapping may be a catchy concept to start with, but “The Big Swap” simply isn’t sexy enough, nor does it have enough post-coital emotional resonance to maintain interest over its two-hour running time. Writer-director Niall Johnson has constructed an intriguing piece of “sex, lies and videotape”-style drama, and shows real aptitude for writing scenes and characters pulled straight from life. But this morality tale about thirtysomething couples playing sexual musical chairs runs out of stamina long before the final climax. It may excite modest action in theaters in the U.K., where it is set to be launched in December, but is unlikely to drum up big B.O. returns elsewhere.
Five couples are sitting around one boozy evening when one twosome, Ellen (Sorcha Brooks) and Jack (Antony Edridge), casually mention they once tried trading partners and thought it was a lot of fun. Before you can say “here come the wild and woolly ’70s again,” keys are being dropped into one big pile and the swapping is soon in full swing. Everyone is a bit nervous and more than a little self-conscious, but they figure it’s all just good dirty fun.
Naturally enough, the effect of the night of just-among-friends promiscuity has a major impact on the group, and most of the fallout is negative. Liz (Julia-Ann Gillitt) drew Julian (Kevin Howarth) in the key exchange, and, during their bedroom romp, he engaged in a little rough play, tying her to the bed. Now Liz’s partner, Hal (Richard Cherry), having seen the marks on her arms, is furious with Julian.
On the more comical end of the anxiety scale, all the other guys are worried and curious about the size of Michael’s (Mark Caven) penis. At the same time, Eve (Alison Egan), who goes out with Julian, is convinced that her b.f. is completely sex-crazed, and Hal thinks he’s falling in love with Eve.
The dramatic development grows steadily more conventional, and the heavier the drama, the less effective the pic. Johnson shows more skill in the earlier, lighter sequences, notably in a number of pleasingly comic sex scenes — not the easiest directing job to pull off.
Thesps, mostly from legit and TV, are generally good, if less than standout, with the exception of Howarth. His Julian is the most memorable of the bunch, perhaps because his character is an over-the-top sleazeball.
The small amount of music used leans toward the schmaltzy end of the jazz songbook. Other tech credits are adequate.