REVIEW: Midnight in the Switchgrass [2021]

Rating: 4 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 99 minutes
    Release Date: July 23rd, 2021 (USA)
    Studio: Lionsgate
    Director(s): Randall Emmett
    Writer(s): Alan Horsnail

We all got excuses.

I think Bruce Willis‘ agent needs a raise because they are going above and beyond to make sure their client gets A-list billing no matter what project he takes. I’d estimate the actor has about five total minutes of screen-time in Midnight in the Switchgrass—a majority of which is his FBI agent (Karl Helter) being a tired and soon-to-be retired mother hen for his much younger and more driven partner (Megan Fox‘s Rebecca Lombardo). It’s a cushy gig that probably put a few bucks in his pocket while somehow also earning him second-billing and foreground placement on the poster despite the real lead (Emile Hirsch‘s state cop Byron Crawford) barely receiving his name at the top. Temper your expectations, Willis fans. It’s a glorified cameo.

What about the film, though? Written by Alan Horsnail and helmed by long-time producer and first-time director Randall Emmett, its story focuses on a series of disappearances. Young women are being abducted, raped, and killed in and around Pensacola, FL, but nobody wants to devote the resources necessary to find a culprit since the victims are mostly truck-stop prostitutes. Crawford is therefore on his own when driving outside his jurisdiction to check out the latest body for the same pattern of bite marks that has him believing a serial killer is on the loose. His boss wants him off the case and his wife wants him home, but his faith in God implores him to find closure for the grieving mothers to which he personally breaks the news.

Lombardo is working undercover to get scumbags preying on the same demographic off the streets. While Helter waits in the car, she’s entrapping online sex offenders to come to seedy motels and “have a good time.” Her focus is on one specific man, but he’s been a no-show for days thanks to unplanned interruptions (Machine Gun Kelly‘s pimp) and her inability to wait due to her own superiors getting frustrated about the money they’ve been spending to save wayward souls. She and Crawford see a kindred spirit in each other upon meeting—someone willing to go the extra mile to ensure the next victim doesn’t get taken. They hatch an off-the-books sting themselves only to watch as their mark (Lukas Haas‘ Peter Hillborough) kidnaps Lombardo instead.

Will Crawford find her in time? Will Lombardo escape? What about the other missing girl (Caitlin Carmichael‘s Tracey)? Or Peter’s young daughter (Olive Elise Abercrombie‘s Bethany)? There are attempts to make us think about families and sacrifice and collateral damage, but none of it really lands since we never spend enough time with anyone to care about them outside of how they service the plot. Crawford is the exception due to him being the lead and thus having the room to deal with his emotions outside of the chase itself. A scene with him telling Ms. Kellogg (Welker White) that her daughter is dead proves the best of the whole because it reveals his unyielding motivation without turning him violent like Rami Malek‘s character in The Little Things.

He wants to rid the world of this monster. Lombardo does too, but she’s too busy being positioned as the linchpin connecting everything to shine as a three-dimensional person beyond “next victim” status. We therefore invest most in Crawford’s journey. We feel his desperation to not suddenly become the reason someone else dies rather than simply the guy who comes in after the fact to shoulder some of the pain. I wish Emmett didn’t go full 90s police thriller with extended recap montages of moments we just saw under a manipulative score to remind us about what Byron is thinking while searching for answers, but the resulting overwrought drama fits the otherwise generic notes of a checkout-aisle paperback novel plot reliant on a lot of expertly placed luck.

Because that is what really saves the day. It’s about a guy someone went to high school with that may have footage the police didn’t know to ask about. It’s about a transportation scheduler getting a guilt trip to throw protocols she initially seems ready to die for out the window. And don’t forget a perfectly timed escape attempt that buys just enough breathing room to lay the groundwork for what can only be described as the “best” possible trajectory when all is said and done. You almost feel bad for the actors expending so much effort to make us believe their psychological and emotional struggles because very little of their perseverance matters when placed beside the dominoes that have waited years to suddenly fall together today.

That doesn’t mean the acting is bad, though. Hirsch is good, albeit a bit over-the-top. Fox is too, especially when busting Willis’ balls for being too much of a “coward” to take the risks she’s only too willing to tackle. And Haas is probably the best of them all as the monster hiding in plain sight. The script seems to want to try and make us “understand” him as more than just a killer since he sings religious songs and loves his family, but it’s all noise considering what he does. Like Fox tells her real-life beau Machine Gun Kelly (they met during production) after his character tries to earn her sympathy, “We all got excuses.” We don’t need Peter to be “complex.” He doesn’t deserve that pity.

We should be worried about Lombardo and Tracey surviving. We should be worried about Crawford doing what needs to be done. Instead, we spend way too much time away from them to give Peter context that adds little to nothing besides the notion that “anyone can be a killer.” Where that sort of messaging might have been relevant three decades ago, however, you must only watch the nightly news to see it now. Let him be a boogeyman (Haas effectively merits our ire) that must be stopped, not the intelligent “guy next door” who loves his kid. Horsnail and Emmett never provide anything that makes us question how we know everything will end anyway. So why not try and prevent your heroes from becoming pawns? Asset management matters.

[1] (L-R) Megan Fox as Rebecca Lombardi and Bruce Willis as Karl Helter in the thriller film, MIDNIGHT IN THE SWITCHGRASS, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.
[2] Emile Hirsch as Byron Crawford in the thriller film, MIDNIGHT IN THE SWITCHGRASS, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.
[3] Sistine Rose Stallone as Heather in the thriller film, MIDNIGHT IN THE SWITCHGRASS, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

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