Midnight In The Switchgrass

In theaters July 23.

THE PLOT:

An undercover FBI agent (Megan Fox) teams up with a Florida state police officer (Emile Hirsch) to investigate a string of unsolved murder cases.

KENT’S TAKE:

“Midnight In The Switchgrass” is touted as a tense thriller about the hunt for a serial killer. Unfortunately, this film’s potential is never reached, nor does it come close to satisfying it ready audience.

From this film’s opening sequence, we discover poor writing and clunky dialogue as Fox and Willis struggle to imbue their lines with meaning and nuance. This awkward exposition continues throughout the film in many scenes. The actors struggle to deliver lines from poorly developed characters, so they are devoid of feeling and emotion.

Willis’ Helter appears uncaring about victims and lacks commitment to a worthy endeavor. Willis struggles mightily to muster a believable performance. It’s obvious that he didn’t believe in the writing. Fox attacks her role with commitment, working hard to squeeze anything she can from her role. Sometimes this works, while other moments seem overacted. I commend her on throwing her all into this mediocre plot. Sometimes you just have to do your best and hold on.

The real star in this film is Emile Hirsch. His Byron Crawford is believable and dredges up hard-fought emotions. His performance shows his skills as an actor – being able to obtain a memorable performance from a predictably sketchy plot.

Director Randall Emmett achieves pure mediocrity. This disappointment is shot poorly with odd angles, shaky and grainy footage and horrendous editing. The result is a choppy film that seems to skip around and result in strange transitions.

Writer Alan Horsnail misses the mark in creating a tense thriller. The road to the climax is supposed to slowly build an emotional miasma of dread, fear and tension that culminates in a resolution that will knock your socks off. Instead, this choppy, non-syncopated film stumbles toward its anticipated conclusion.

“Midnight In The Switchgrass” is a let-down on almost every level. Although the cast gives a college try with their performances, this film is destined to be forgotten.

LYNN’S TAKE:

The lengthy hunt for a sicko responsible for torturing, raping and murdering multiple teenage girls, known as “The Truck Stop Killer,” deserves better than the poorly executed “Midnight in the Switchgrass.”

This true-crime thriller involving a long-haul trucker living a double life, Robert Ben Rhoades, here known as Peter (Lukas Haas), had the potential to be an absorbing drama, but first-time director Randall Emmett, although a veteran producer, and rookie screenwriter Alan Horsnail serve up a plodding standard operating procedural. They fumble with erratic pacing and cookie-cutter characters.

Nevertheless, Emile Hirsch’s earnest, intense performance as Pensacola lawman Byron Crawford stands out in the tall prairiegrass.

But don’t expect a decent turn from Bruce Willis, who is merely window dressing as a jaded FBI agent close to retirement, Karl Helter, who verbally spars with fellow investigator Rebecca Lombardo on intent and methods.

They are teamed to infiltrate sex trafficker rings, but Lombardo, a convincing Megan Fox, stumbles onto the trail of a mass murderer. Fox’s character is committed to caring about the victims, mostly “invisibles” – runaways, prostitutes, hitchhikers, drug addicts, and thinks their lives matter.

That concern is shared by Crawford, who goes rogue when another young woman’s body is found, this one with the same bite marks that he has seen on other victims. And then when a prostitute is killed at the Oasis Motel, he thinks it is the guy that was planning to meet Rebecca, who had engaged “BigRigGlory” online. The pair set up a sting that goes horribly wrong.

The filmmakers have moved the real serial killer’s location from Texas to Florida. Haas, who broke through as the young Amish boy in “Witness,” actually starred in “Alpha Dog” with Willis and Hirsch before, but has no interaction with them here.

Naturally, we get a glimpse of him as a loving family man, doting on his daughter Bethany (Olive Elise Abercrombie), at his remote homestead. A shed on his property is where he shackles his victims and tortures them before discarding their bodies. Haas is creepy as the sadistic pervert, but the story’s predictability doesn’t help. Although the escalating cat-and-mouse game builds in suspense towards the film’s resolution, although that in itself is rather abrupt.

Fox, who met her current boyfriend, Machine Gun Kelly, on the set – he plays an abusive pimp, using his real name of Colson Baker – conveys street smarts and a dedication to her job, while hinting at a troubled life.

The supporting cast includes Sistine Stallone, Sylvester’s daughter, as Heather, the sister of a missing girl, Tracey, well-played by Caitlin Carmichael, who handles a harrowing escape with real grit.

Welker White is moving as one of the dead girls’ mothers, Georgia Kellogg, who is visited by Crawford.

The music is maudlin and a bit too on the nose, and although than Hirsch’s interesting portrayal, not much distinguishes this from a “Dateline” episode.