Dennis Quaid stars in SWITCHBACK, directed by Jeb Stuart for Paramount Pictures.

Switchback (1997, Jeb Stuart)

I’m having a hard time understanding certain aspects of Switchback. Primarily, Dennis Quaid’s terrible performance. I’m wondering if Jeb Stuart instructed him to imitate a log or if it was just Quaid’s read on the character. To be fair (to Stuart, not to Quaid), the character is a pretend protagonist. Stuart’s more interested in his Texas county sheriff election or the men working the railroad than he is in his main characters. Switchback has four main characters–Quaid, Danny Glover, Jared Leto and R. Lee Ermey. In many ways, even though it’s part of the 1990s serial killer boom (ruined by Dino De Laurentiis turning Hannibal Lector into a superhero–I’m using ‘ruined’ lightly), it’s a 1970s road movie.

I mean, Stuart is so interested in Ermey’s election and Glover’s railroad stories, Quaid’s renegade FBI agent and Leto’s medical school dropout are essentially ignored. Both characters get speeches to other characters (big shock, Glover and Ermey) and I suppose one could read a juxtapose between the two duets (Quaid and Ermey, Leto and Glover). I hesitate to even suggest Stuart was going for it–past his somewhat neat plotting, his ambitions seem to run very low–except there is a lot of careful attention played to the changes in the killer’s behavior, his motives and his general cognitive reasoning. It’s real interesting stuff because Stuart plays it so casual.

Glover’s great, Ermey’s good, Ted Levine’s great–Leto’s better than I expected but probably because Quaid is worse than I could have imagined.

A big feature of the film, which was originally called Going West in America, is the lack of women. In fact, the film could be called… Men Without Women. The women in the film are either victims, secretaries or unheard voices on telephones (who are absolutely supportive of their rogue FBI agent husbands). Stuart’s just fascinated by these men who work only with men, who rely only on other men… and he seems somewhat aware of it, as there’s a scene with a waitress wondering why Leto’s so weird around her.

There might be something in Leto’s missing back-story about it.

But Switchback isn’t terrible–the election stuff is somewhat engaging and Glover carries his scenes wonderfully. He’s having a lot of fun. Stuart is not a bad director–he seems a wee bit uncomfortable with a Panavision frame however–and his composition and setting go a long way toward that 1970s feel….

Even if the whole thing feels like a movie Sydney Pollack and Robert Redford would have made.

And the end, surprisingly, is rather effective, even though it leaves lots unresolved and there’s an unbelievable character there–and a rather significant one missing (is that obscure enough–I mean, it is a serial killer movie).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jeb Stuart; director of photography, Oliver Wood; edited by Conrad Buff; music by Basil Poledouris; production designer, Jeff Howard; produced by Gale Anne Hurd; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Danny Glover (Bob Goodall), Dennis Quaid (Frank LaCrosse), Jared Leto (Lane Dixon), R. Lee Ermey (Sheriff Buck Olmstead), Ted Levine (Nate), William Fichtner (McGinnis) and Leo Burmester (Shorty).


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