Reel Toronto: Switching Channels
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Reel Toronto: Switching Channels

Even a Jesse Barfield cameo can't save this locally shot "comedy" with a 1980s dream team of Kathleen Turner, Burt Reynolds, and Christopher Reeve.

Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.

2014 04 30 switchingchannels

The 1980s were not the height of the quality film boom here in fair Toronto. For every hit like Police Academy or even Three Men and a Baby, there was something godawful, like Short Circuit 2 or Switching Channels.

Whaddayoumean you don’t remember Switching Channels?! Released in 1988, it had three marquee stars in Kathleen Turner, Burt Reynolds, and Christopher Reeve, not to mention local director Ted Kotcheff, whose résumé includes everything from The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz to First Blood. From Richler to Rambo is some kind of range, folks! But, yeah—he also directed this and Weekend at Bernie’s, but pobody’s nerfect, okay!

2014 04 30 thompsoncentrechicago

This Chicago-set story was supposed to be one of those madcap, 1920s-style zinger-fests about hotshot journalists—and indeed, it’s a remake of the play The Front Page, dolled up for the nascent cable news era.

They did shoot some bits in Chicago, like this one featuring a fancy atrium, the lobby of the Thompson Centre.

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See, Reeve’s character is afraid of heights, which is extra ironic because he’s most famous for playing Su- … oh, never mind.

2014 04 30 jail

This jail? Also not Toronto. We figured out it’s Montreal’s Bordeaux Prison

2014 04 30 bordeaux

…thanks to that distinctive dome.

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These interior shots, however, showing Henry Gibson about to be electrocuted…

2014 04 30 donjail

…are in the rotunda of the Don Jail, now part of the Bridgepoint Hospital. (Spoiler: he escapes. It’s a comedy!)

2014 04 30 mowat acrossfromjail

Amusingly, there’s a scene where Turner leaves the jail and turns around, and suddenly she’s on Queen’s Park Crescent. It’s movie magic!

2014 04 30 mowat

Later, we return to the Mowat Block building.

2014 04 30 sportsbar

We’re not sure where this sports bar is, but…

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…hey, they’re watching a Jays game on TV!

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There’s Jesse Barfield about to unleash a throw from the right-field corner at the Ex!

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There’s the King of Kensington himself!

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There’s Fiona Reid!

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And Second City alum Tony Rosato! Where were we?

2014 04 30 oldcityhall

How about in front of Old City Hall (appearing as a courthouse, so basically playing itself)?

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Switching Channels had the same casting director as Superman, so perhaps it’s not surprising Reeve’s Superman co-star Ned Beatty pops up. He’s running an election campaign out of this office, which we never see from the outside, but you can see the Gardiner back there…

2014 04 30 campaignoffice qq

…aaand then this building out the window. We’ll just put it into our Reel Toronto-puter for triangulation and, hey, he must be in this building on Spadina, at Queen’s Quay. Easy peasy!

2014 04 30 winderemereresto

A bit out of town, this handsome resort where Reeve romances Turner…

2014 04 30 windermere

…is the Windermere House up in Muskoka. Unlike Geena Davis and her husband, however, these guys didn’t burn it down while filming.

2014 04 30 casaloma conservatory

Rather more familiar is the location of this rich dude’s gym, which has been set up…

2014 04 30 casaloma2

…in the Conservatory at Casa Loma.

2014 04 30 misscityhall

Finally, the finale! It takes place here, with all sorts of would-be-funny running to and fro through these halls…

2014 04 30 miss stairs2

…and up these very distinctive stairs. They’re the ones at Mississauga City Hall and, having popped up in everything from Brain Candy to Dead Ringers, we think it’s safe to say they make up the most cinematic staircase in the whole of the GTA. Congrats, Great Stairs! This movie came out in 1988, and the City Hall opened only a year earlier, so it was still shiny and new.

We’ve seen worse films than Switching Channels, mind you; at worst, it’s a curiosity. The two male leads were nominated for Razzies, but, hey, they didn’t win! Reeve actually gives it his all here, sporting ridiculous ’80s suits and feathered hair, but, as he apparently noted in his autobiography, Reynolds and Turner pretty much hated each other’s guts—hardly a recipe for rom-com success. It’s maybe not so surprising, then, that it was not a notable box-office success.