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movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Switchback

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Danny Glover
Director: Jeb Stuart
Rated: R
RunTime: 118 Minutes
Release Date: October 1997
Genres: Suspense, Thriller

*Also starring: Jared Leto, R. Lee Ermey, Ted Levine, William Fichtner, Leo Burmester, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Orville Stoeber

Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4

Inauspicious beginnings have doomed many a film. So it is with first time director Jeb Stuart's SWITCHBACK. Stuart seems to believe that films must telegraph their punches or else they will lose the audience.

SWITCHBACK opens with the classic a-stranger-is-in-the-house scene so popular in slasher movies and cheap thrillers. And to make sure that he hooks the audience, Stuart, who wrote the script for SWITCHBACK as well as much better films such as THE FUGITIVE, carefully includes a child endangerment aspect to the opening. Finally, to make sure that he has everyone's complete attention, he switches next to a gruesome scene in a far away motel of a pair of bright red, sliced bodies in a bathtub.

The movie stars Dennis Quaid as rogue FBI agent Frank LaCrosse. Frank spends the movie on the lam from his own bureau while he tracks down a serial killer. Although the FBI thinks it already has the killer, Frank remains convinced that the motel killings were the old serial killer's handiwork. Like many movie killers, this one has a personal vendetta against Frank, the agent who was in charge. Of course, the killer has genius tendencies as well as tremendous good luck.

Quaid, who frequently has trouble demonstrating much dynamic range as actor, approaches his role in this film with a singleness of purpose. His vision of an angry agent affords only one expression, a hangdog frown that looks like someone suffering from constant gas. And his terse elocution borders on parody. Absent his performance and with a director more adept at staging scenes, the movie would have been much better. (When in doubt, Stuart calls out the stuntmen to hang off of some cliff in a snowy wilderness so as to distract our attention from the problems in the storyline.)

The supporting cast almost carries the show. The best is R. Lee Ermey (the police captain in SEVEN) who plays Buck Olmstead, a cagey Amarillo, Texas sheriff, who becomes Frank's lone supporter. "He told the truth, and once you tell the truth, everything else is just cheap whiskey," Buck says with homespun wisdom about his belief in Frank's veracity. Easily the most likable character in the story, Buck is willing to put his career on the line to assist his friends.

While the FBI chases their own agent, who in turns searches for the elusive killer, a parallel story has the film's only two visible suspects driving around in the snow. Jared Leto, playing ex-doctor Lane Dixon, has a scene in which he cuts open a man's throat to save his life almost exactly like the beginning scene in PLAYING GOD. Lane actually dropped out while he was an intern, but his skills with a knife makes him an instant suspect.

One night Lane makes what appears to be a bad decision and hitches a ride in a '77 Caddy. Bob Goodall, the car's owner, has decorated every inch of his automobile with pictures of naked women -- even the seat belts are covered. Bob explains how he designed nuddie upholstery so that he could slip a picture out when he got tired of one of his "honies" and put in a new picture. Danny Glover, who has a penchant for bad film choices, GONE FISHIN' being his most recent disaster, plays Bob with wild eyes and great glee. Bob is a suspect because he loves to threaten people with his knife, and because he acts too friendly. Then again, one learns in films of this caliber never to discount the minor character or even the one not yet seen as the killer.

SWITCHBACK runs too long at 2:01. It is rated R for violence, profanity, and pinup pictures. The film would be fine for most teenagers.

Copyright 1997 Steve Rhodes

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