There are a couple of early moments in “Midnight in the Switchgrass” that tease a gritty and multi-layered crime thriller. But that potential is all but squashed in the first twenty minutes or so. Instead of something fresh and engaging, we end up with a glaringly inert and poorly acted potboiler that treads way too much familiar ground. Strangely enough, it manages to be watchable despite never being anything more than aggressively average.
Directed by Randall Emmett working from a script by Alan Horsnail, “Midnight in the Switchgrass” begins the same way many of these stories do – with the body of a young woman found under a bridge. Turns out she’s one of several female victims reported missing and later found dead in the Pensacola area. It has all the markings and fits the profile of a serial killer. Florida State Police officer Byron Crawford (Emile Hirsch) knows it and immediately connects it to the other killings.
Yet for some inexplicable reason Crawford’s chief refuses to pursue it and wants Crawford to just drop the case. Seriously! There’s never a reason given and no logical answer why. And when Crawford ignores the orders and investigates anyway, his insubordination is never met with an ounce of department pushback. There are no warnings, no repercussions. Nothing! It ends up being one of several meaningless details that are only in the movie because they’re written on the page.
Elsewhere Megan Fox and Bruce Willis play a couple of FBI agents running stings in the area to catch sex traffickers. Fox’s Agent Lombardo works as the undercover bait luring the pervs into their trap while her partner Agent Helter (Willis) listens in helplessly from the car. Helter has lost the stomach for their work and is ready to pack up for an easier assignment in Seattle. But when their operation crosses paths with Crawford’s investigation, Lombardo insists on sticking around and seeing it through.
Amid the sea of crime movie cliches and bland dialogue are a number of performances that are as unconvincing as the story itself. Hirsch gets third billing but he’s really the star of the movie, showing some nice restraint while sporting a truly awful and exaggerated Deep South accent. Willis continues his run of sleepwalking performances, completely detached and only there to add some name recognition. To Fox’s credit, she puts all she can into her role but finds herself chained (both literally and figuratively) to a script that puts her into some unwinnable positions. Cringy dialogue and some bad character beats (especially with her beau Machine Gun Kelly) are too much for her to overcome.
My favorite performance comes from Lukas Haas who plays the killer, a normal middle-America truck driver with a wife and young daughter. Haas is convincing both as a loving husband and father and as a creepy sociopath and killer. He provides a startling reminder that even the most normal exteriors can hide unspeakable evil. But Haas can only do so much, and soon even his storyline runs face-first into bad writing. It’s a recurring issue that handcuffs the movie from the very start. “Midnight in the Switchgrass” is now available on VOD”.