Preparation for my upcoming horror convention continues! Sharing the must-meet seat alongside Gary Busey is none other than Roger Murtaugh himself, Danny Glover. Busey and Glover starred in both Lethal Weapon and Predator 2 together, and while I could have chosen to induct either into the vault this month (and may still), thus killing two birds with one stone, I’ve obviously chosen the more time-consuming route. Of all Glover’s credits, I decided to revisit this little gem of the 90’s.
In Amarillo, Texas, Sheriff Buck Olmstead (R. Lee Ermey) is called by Deputy Nate Booker (Ted Levine) to a double murder at the Tall Indian Motel. Occurring on the eve of his re-election, Buck is not surprised to find his opponent, Chief Jack McGinnis (William Fichtner), looking to solve the murder first. Wind of the murders brings FBI Agent Frank LaCrosse (Dennis Quaid) to town. He believes it to be the work of a serial killer he’s been hunting for two years. Unbeknownst to local law, Frank’s involvement is strictly personal; this killer kidnapped his son three months prior and he’s desperate to find him. Elsewhere in town, a quiet drifter by the name of Lane Dixon (Jared Leto) hitches a ride with affable local, Bob Goodall (Danny Glover).
If you haven’t noticed, there’s one obvious reason why I wanted to revisit Switchback; the cast. I’ve always been a fan of Dennis Quaid and Danny Glover so having them share top billing was probably my original reason to watch this. Looking more closely though, Switchback is a cornucopia of That Guys! R. Lee Ermey, Ted Levine, and William Fichtner hold significant roles, but recognizable actors Julio Oscar Mechoso, Gregory Scott Cummins, Kevin Cooney, and Leo Burmester make brief appearances. The film also features Justified‘s own Walton Goggins on the other side of the badge as one of Olmstead’s young deputies, Bud. Switchback is a cornerstone for any aspiring master of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.
Switchback is penned by writer Jeb Stuart. Stuart, known for his work on classics like Die Hard and The Fugitive, also takes the reins as director. Switchback has a rich and complex story worthy of its billing as a thriller. Unfortunately, the telling lacks momentum; the scenes rarely capture the building tension and harrowing situations effectively. It’s rather bland, with scenes progressing more like they’re being checked off a list than building to a riveting climax. The uncertainty surrounding the killer’s identity is intriguing, but is revealed halfway through; a necessary evil to shift the tension between the traveling companions.
Quaid’s portrayal of the obsessed agent is a little off-putting at first. He’s all business; showing little emotion even when admitting his true motivations. Aside from one humanizing scene, his circumstance endears audiences more than his stoicism. Leto’s Lane, with his wide-eyed stares and private past sparks a nice contrast to the very personable and jovial demeanor of Glover’s Bob. It’s an interestingly crafted set of characters for certain, and ultimately what compensates for the conventional direction.
Perhaps the most perplexing thing about Switchback is its title. The climax of the film happens on a train, and switchback is a railroad term. Although it may relate to the unfolding story, its obscure origins do little to entice audiences into theaters which explains its meager box office returns. I’m glad I looked to Switchback‘s impressive cast instead of its cryptic title when deciding to give it a chance. If you’ve been curious about it, Switchback offers enough to make it worth the watch.