‘Midnight in the Switchgrass’ Review: Sordid and Derivative

“Midnight in the Switchgrass” is the first feature directed by Randall Emmett, whose trademark as a producer — according to a sprawling career overview in New York magazine earlier this year — has been a rash of low-budget movies starring misleadingly top-billed actors like Bruce Willis. “Switchgrass” is superior to those Emmett productions (“Reprisal,” “Survive the Night”), but that bar is on the ground, or even beneath it — buried under the switchgrass, if you will.

A second-billed Willis appears here in a barely roused state as an F.B.I. agent, who along with his partner, Rebecca (Megan Fox), is trying to catch a man who has been hunting underage girls in the Florida panhandle. Flouting protocol, Rebecca teams up with a Florida state officer, Byron (Emile Hirsch), who is tracking a serial killer who preys on prostitutes. The victims’ profession means his superiors don’t care about the case. Byron deduces that he and Rebecca are after the same guy.

The murderer’s identity isn’t a mystery to us: Ripping off “The Silence of the Lambs” (down to a climactic fake out in which Emmett misleads viewers about which character is on which doorstep), the movie crosscuts between the investigation and the killer (Lukas Haas), a trucker and family man leading a double life, to follow him as he kidnaps a 16-year-old (Caitlin Carmichael). The atmosphere is thoroughly sleazy without being distinctive, and everything about the movie — the emotionless line readings, the half-baked back stories — exudes a terse functionality. Clearly, no one even bothered to proofread the onscreen text. But “Midnight in the Switchgrass” achieves its apparent sole goal: being a movie that exists.

Midnight in the Switchgrass
Rated R. Violence and disturbing themes. Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on FandangoNow, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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