Wednesday, December 8, 2010

'Switchback' is too much back and forth

Switchback (1997)
Starring: Danny Glover, Jared Leto, R. Lee Ermey and Dennis Quaid
Director: Jeb Stuart
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

An aging sheriff (Ermey) must choose between his political future and helping a renegade FBI agent (Quaid) capture an elusive serial killer who has kidnapped his young son. But will they manage to interpert the killer's clues before it's too late?

"Switchback" is one of those films I wish I liked more, but, to be perfectly honest, I think the 5 rating I'm giving it is on the generous side--it's definately a low 5.

The biggest problem with "Switchback" is that it's made up of some very excellent parts that don't really work together due to a poorly thought out plot that was also badly implemented.

There are three stories in the film. Individually, they are faily well done and well acted, but they don't connect effectively.

First, there is the story of a county sheriff who is forced to choose between the spirit of the law and the letter of the law (not to mention right and wrong) on the verge of very tight election. If he makes the moral choice, he is sure to lose his career. R. Lee Ermey gives an excellent and sympathetic performance in this role. The contest between Ermey and his political opponent that gets disrupted by a serial killer apparently wandering through their county would make for a great movie.

Second, there's the story of an odd couple--a retired railroad worker and a dispirited doctor--on a roadtrip to Utah. One of them is a serial killer who is probably going to murder the other one and frame him for his crimes. Danny Glover puts on a good show as the self-destructive railroad worker, while Jared Leto is just bland enough to be believable as the depressed doctor who may or may not be a psychopathic killer. There are some really fun and exciting scenes between these two actors, and, like the story of the sheriff, I could easily see a "The Hitcher"-style movie in this material.

Third, there story of the FBI agent who is chasing the serial killer in the hopes of recovering his kidnapped son. He is following some utterly obscure clues and he is violating all sorts of FBI orders in the process. Dennis Quaid is okay, but he probably gives the weakest performance in the film. It's not entirely Quaid's fault, as he is also dealing with the weakest material--his story is supposed to be the thread that runs through the film and connects the others, but it so weakly done and so poorly thought out that it simply isn't able to do so.

The greatest problem is with the clues that Quaid's character supposedly uses to figure out when and where he will be able to catch the killer. These clues were so obscure that he only found the solution by pure chance... and even then there was one final step to solving the mystery that I can't for the life of me figure out how the killer expected him to reach the proper conclusion, or how he even DID reach the proper conclusion. (If anyone who has seen "Switchback" wold like to impress the world with their intellect and explain the solution to us, please leave a comment!)

"Switchback" is a movie that is NOT greater due to the sum of its parts. It's more like a couple of very good movie ideas that were truncated and butchered into this film and everyone who saw it is poorer as a result.

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