Imagine that there is a serial killer on the loose. Imagine that a violent psychopath is preying on young girls and dumping their bodies by the side of the road. And imagine that a heartless bureaucracy is refusing to put the proper resources into finding the suspect. Now imagine that as hard as you might try, you simply can’t find it in yourself to care. That, in a nutshell, is the experience of watching Midnight in the Switchgrass, and based on the staggering and consistent ineptitude with which the premise is executed. It’s a classic example of the sort of B-movie where an A-list celebrity has moved just far enough past their peak to start taking unnecessary supporting roles that will take center stage on the poster in movies that have little else to recommend them.
Based loosely on the real-life Texas serial killer, The Truck Stop Killer, Midnight in the Switchgrass transposes the story to Pensacola, Florida. A series of young girls have turned up dead in seemingly identical murders, their bodies bearing similar bite marks and being posed in sexually suggestive positions by the highway. Enter Byron Crawford (Emile Hirsch), a no-nonsense cop who is tough as nails, sharp as a tack, a bit of a loose cannon, and any other number of police cliches you might have kicking around. He was also tasked by God to join the force so he could protect young girls, but seemingly no one else.
While Byron works diligently to convince his superiors that the murders are related and should be investigated as active serial killer situation, an odd couple of FBI agents on a completely unrelated mission stumble into the same case. Karl Helter (Bruce Willis) is the veteran agent whose clothes and stubble scream “I’m too old for this shit,” while Rebecca Lombardi (Megan Fox) is the young up-and-comer whose passion for justice will stop at nothing, particularly not outdated concepts like “legality” or “personal safety.” On a national tour of sting operations targeting people who traffic underage girls, they find themselves on the same crime scene as Byron and decide to join forces. Or at least, Rebecca decides to join forces, while Karl decides to skip town for most of the movie under some vague pretense about divorce proceedings.
The sloppy nature in which the biggest star unceremoniously exits the scene is hardly the biggest problem with the movie. The acting – even from the largely capable main cast – is simply atrocious. From the police chief who lectures Byron on police protocol while seemingly trying to remember a speech from some 80s action movie without being quite sure which one, to the estranged mother of a victim who manages to blow both callous indifference and veiled sentimentality upon learning of her daughter’s death, the movie usually feels like the producers blew their entire casting budget on Willis and Fox, and filled out the call sheet with whoever they could find at the bus stop. To say nothing of the almost complete lack of character development. In the first few minutes of the movie, Byron walks confidently onto a crime scene and starts making Sherlockian pronouncements without bothering to explain how he came to any of his conclusions. He is, quite simply, a better cop than all the other cops, and he doesn’t like to see young girls getting murdered more than other people don’t like seeing young girls getting murdered. Fox’s Lombardi is a similarly shallow guardian angle, whose character can only really be distinguished from Byron by a tendency to occasionally dress up as a prostitute instead of talking about God, and her lack of a red herring pedophile mustache. And the actual killer, played by Lukas Haas, never gets the sort of deep psychological examination to make us even think about his motives. He’s simply an enigma who murders girls despite having a daughter, and a creep who likes to sit back in a comfy chair and smell their clothes.
Verdict: 2 out of 5 Stars
If you love a good serial killer thriller, definitely skip Midnight in the Switchgrass. If, on the other hand, you enjoy a serial killer thriller, but aren’t particularly picky about quality, the back half of the movie does manage to pull together a few legitimately suspenseful sequences. However, the long road to get there is such a painfully unrewarding slog that the final payoff will hardly seem worth the time.