Midnight in the Switchgrass

I keep rooting for Bruce Willis to make a comeback. For more than a decade now, the actor has primarily appeared in low-budget action schlock where he shows up for a few scenes looking bored out of his mind and visibly not making much of an effort. His latest, Midnight in the Switchgrass, isn't Cosmic Sin-level bad, but it's certainly a far cry from the glory days of Die Hard. And that's a shame, because co-stars Megan Fox and Emile Hirsch work overtime in a futile attempt to breathe life into this limp crime drama.

Willis and Fox play, respectively, FBI agents Helter and Lombardo. They're on the hunt for a serial killer of women in Florida. She poses as a hooker to lure a prime suspect into a motel, while he waits out in the car, poised to make an arrest. (Willis sits in the car a lot during this movie.) Strangely, these two aren't necessarily the main characters. Just as much, if not more time is spent following Crawford (Hirsch), a tormented state cop also tracking down leads. The three team up, sort of, but not really, because they generally operate within their own separate plot threads. Crawford's section largely focuses on visiting the mother of one victim so she can explain to the audience what the film's title means.

To say there are clues in Midnight in the Switchgrass would be misleading. Instead, there is a lot of muddled nonsense about trying to get the psycho to meet up with Lombardo. Being a coherent procedural is not the movie's top priority, at least not when the excuse to put Fox in revealing clothing and behave seductively exists. And to give her bona fides as an FBI agent, there's a gratuitous scene in which she beats the hell out of a lowlife (Colson “Machine Gun Kelly” Baker) who shows up for a rendezvous.

Director Randall Emmett and writer Alan Horsnail try to pull off a few surprise twists. None of them work because the story is so sloppily assembled. The FBI agents almost seem to be working on a different case than the cop is. How their respective actions fit together is rarely made clear. That causes the plot to become confusing. Given how substance-free the movie is to begin with, there's no reason why it should ever leave viewers scratching their heads.

Lukas Haas plays the killer, Peter, who is a normal family man on the surface. (This is not a spoiler. He's identified early on.) The actor is the best thing about the film, shrewdly avoiding the usual serial killer histrionics in favor of nuance. Watching him alternate from caring dad to violent maniac is chilling. Midnight in the Switchgrass has a solid villain. If the heroes were as three-dimensional, the picture might have been on to something. Alas, Crawford's only personality trait is “excessive brooding,” Lombardo's is “talk tough and look sexy,” and Helter's is “scowl and go sit down somewhere.”

When you look at The Silence of the Lambs -- a classic that deals with similar subject matter -- it gets under your skin because you can follow the logic and reasoning of every step Clarice Starling takes. That builds suspense the closer she gets to Buffalo Bill. We additionally get to know the woman he's currently holding captive, and that infuses the story with a ticking-clock urgency. Midnight in the Switchgrass doesn't offer a coherent investigation, nor does it possess much interest in any of the victims who have been slain. It's just one more low-rent picture looking to generate cheap thrills from showing violence against women.

Fox and Hirsch deserve better. As for Willis, him not caring in a movie that doesn't care feels oddly appropriate.

out of four

Midnight in the Switchgrass is rated R for violence, and language throughout. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.