For a movie dealing with sexual predators and serial killers, "Midnight in the Switchgrass" is as sleepy as it is sordid. In his rookie outing as a director, moonlighting producer Randall Emmett has little to work with in the script by Alan Horsnail ("The Fortress").
There are several leftover tropes from more involving movies like "The Iceman" and "The Silence of the Lambs," but few of the characters are involving enough to care if they escape from the serial killer's clutches.
Emmett and Horsnail reveal the killer's identity early on. We can tell he's the mass murderer because he's nicer than the other truckers dealing with underage prostitutes and drug addicts in the Florida panhandle. Peter ( Lukas Haas) seems happily married, but he sure has a lot of extra loads to haul, and he keeps a barn in the back of his property locked at all times.
State policeman Byron Crawford (Emile Hirsch) furrows his brow a lot about all the women that Peter kills and abandons along Interstate 10. His supervisor (Michael Beach) wants him to concentrate on other cases.
There are others who would like to stop Peter's killing rampage. A pair of FBI agents, Rebecca (Megan Fox) and Karl (Bruce Willis), have been setting up stings to catch him. Rebecca poses as a hooker so she can lure him in for an arrest. They, too, encounter a setback when a violent, addled john (who clearly isn't their target) attacks her.
It should have been fun to watch Fox pulverize a smug predator, but Emmett stages the encounter tepidly. He also frequently cuts back to previous scenes with Peter and his victims that seem to exist only to fill out the running time.
The Feds treat the latest sting as a disaster (it could lead to charges of entrapment, although assaulting an FBI agent is also a crime), so Rebecca is about to be sent to Seattle. When she encounters Byron at a crime scene, the two decide to pool resources before Peter kills someone else.
There's never a sense of urgency in "Midnight in the Switchgrass" despite the fact that Peter could strike at any time. The movie is too stilted for an action film, and the characters are too shallow for a drama. The monologues Fox and others deliver don't give us much new information about the characters and just seem to slow things down.
Fox, to her credit, delivers her soliloquies eloquently about standing up for victims who law enforcement usually ignores. Her commitment to the role keeps "Midnight in the Switchgrass" from slipping into a coma. With "This Is 40," she has proved that she won't be upstaged by robots or computer-generated turtles. Willis, on the other hand, looks like he'd rather be making another battery commercial. The people behind the Die Hard battery spots give him better material.
Emmett has produced a few movies directed by Martin Scorsese, but he has learned little from the master, who's listed in the acknowledgements. One intoxicated victim walks as if she were failing an audition to be a background artist on "The Walking Dead" instead of struggling with the effects of a drug.
He also bizarrely uses the Dire Straits classic "Brothers in Arms" in a way that doesn't fit with the scenes. Whereas Scorsese has great instincts for which pop songs to use in his films (watch "GoodFellas" again), this song about war and loss seems out of place. Mark Knopfler's lyrics, which are performed not by his old band but by a weak sound alike, tell a story on their own. The movie they create in your head is better than what has just been playing on the screen.
‘Midnight in the Switchgrass’
73 Cast: Emile Hirsch, Megan Fox, Bruce Willis, Lukas Haas, Caitlin Carmichael, Olive Elise Abercrombie, Michael Beach
Director: Randall Emmett
Rating: R, for violence, and language throughout
Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes