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(1997) (Dennis Quaid, Danny Glover) (R)

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Suspense/Thriller: An F.B.I. agent trails a serial killer who has kidnaped his son.
F.B.I. agent Frank LaCrosse (DENNIS QUAID) has been hot on the trail of a serial killer for the past eighteen months. His motivation is now personal because the killer has kidnaped his son, and his pursuit has led him to Amarillo, Texas where two more bodies have been found. Once there, LaCrosse finds himself in the middle of a heated election feud between the incumbent, Sheriff Buck Olmstead (R. LEE ERMEY), and his challenger, police chief Jack McGinnis (WILLIAM FICHTNER). The two men want to solve the latest crime, but also know they can use it to their own political gain, especially when they believe they've caught the suspect. LaCrosse sides with Buck knowing he can use his resources in his investigation, and the sheriff feels compelled to help once he learns of Frank's dilemma.

At the same time, but hundreds of miles away, Lane Dixon (JARED LETO), a young drifter and former doctor, is picked up by an ex-railroad man, Bob Goodall (DANNY GLOVER), who agrees to give him a ride. Seeing that the inside of the car is filled with nude pinups, Lane gets worried, but after Bob later saves his life in a barroom fight, Lane figures the guy's okay. The two continue their trip that leads them into the snowbound Rockies where Lane begins to get suspicious after several more deaths and notices that Bob's car begins to fit the description of the suspect's. As the situation gets more volatile, Frank tries to close in on the killer before losing track of him again.

If they're fans of someone in the cast or of action-oriented suspense thrillers, they might. Few preteens, however, will have much of an interest in this film.
For strong violence and several views of nude pin-ups.
  • DENNIS QUAID plays a no nonsense F.B.I. agent who's very serious about this case because it involves his son as well as the deaths of many people.
  • DANNY GLOVER plays a friendly man whom everyone knows and likes, but has a dark, murderous side to him.
  • JARED LETO plays a former doctor who's now a drifter without a clue as to his future.
  • R. LEE ERMEY plays the local sheriff who, other than smoking cigars, seems to be an okay role model.


    OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
    Those responsible for recent murder mystery movies, where the killer's identity is unknown for most of the film, have forgotten a key element of that genre. That's the red herring factor, where the audience is led -- and usually misled -- to believe certain key people may be the suspect, or that certain facts may be important when in reality they're a dead end. Written and directed by first time director Jeb Stuart, "Switchback" is a prime example. Stuart (writer of "Die Hard" and "The Fugitive") obviously has a knack for storytelling. Nevertheless, his foray into this genre is rather flat and often keeps the audience at arms' length from the story.

    We have three main characters here (not including the sherif who's too localized to be a prime suspect), so why not make all of them strong candidates of being the villain? Quaid's Lacrosse character is perfectly set up for that. He's very non-emotional and perhaps too determined to find his man (we later learn it's for different reasons) -- and his job would be a perfect alibi for a killer. Then there's Glover who plays the friendliest man on Earth that everyone seems to know -- and that's another good cover. Finally, there's Leto's drifter character who's mysteriously desperate to get across the country. A good set up? Yes, but unfortunately the plot offers little in the way of deception, thus allowing the audience to figure out way too soon the killer's identity.

    Sometimes that's not such a bad thing, for the audience in such cases has superior position where we worry about the other characters who haven't figured everything out yet. That often leads to highly suspenseful close calls for the "good guys." Yet Stuart doesn't go that route until the very end and instead tries to lead us along while we're already way ahead of him. By doing so, he allows the story to lose momentum, and the audience to lose interest in the characters, the story, and its resolution. He also focuses way too much time on the election battle between the sheriff and the police chief that never goes anywhere and comes off as tofu -- a bland substance simply used as filler.

    Regarding the performances, only Glover gets a role to sink his teeth into, and he plays the friendly guy with a dark side rather well. However, he certainly won't go down in the annals of villains as anyone of note. Quaid, whom we've always liked in most every project he's been in, plays his character true to what would be expected of a man whose son has been kidnaped. Yet, his nearly emotionless passion to find this guy makes him unapproachable, and he loses empathy votes from the audience. If he's the hero, we need to care for him in order to root for his success. As it is, we understand him, but don't completely feel his pain. Again, all of that would have worked had he been made a suspect, but that's never the case. Leto falls into the same category -- we never know much about him and thus don't really care what happens.

    There are a few fun action sequences, including a car out on the edge of a snowy cliff, and another with a fight occurring on a train's fold out wings (that I had never heard of nor seen before) with a narrow tunnel approaching, both of which show that Stuart can handle such material. It's just too bad that he seemingly focused more on his first time direction than on his previous mastered skill of screenwriting. Similarly, sometimes the interesting part of this genre is the competition between the killer and the cop, where it becomes something of a chess match between the two. That element is present in this film, but Stuart simply has Quaid describe it instead of allowing us to see it unfold -- and that's certainly not as effective. It's like reading about a football game instead of actually being there watching it. Had we cared for more the characters and/or had there been more "fun" in the mystery of the whodunit, this would have been a much better film. As it stands, it looks and feels much like the many other run-of-the-mill suspense thrillers that are released year after year. That being the case, we give "Switchback" a 5 out of 10.

    This is your typical suspenseful murder story that contains many similar elements to other films in the genre. Obviously several people are killed with a heavy amount of blood noted, but at least many of the murders aren't explicitly seen. However, there are many suspenseful scenes throughout the film, but surprisingly few extremely vulgar profanities (we counted just 2 "f" and 7 "s" words). Sexual material is limited to the inside of a car that's plastered with nude pinups, but we do see many bare breasts and some pubic hair in those photos. While it's questionable how many children will want to see this film, you should look through the material if you or anyone in your family does want to see it.

  • Lane drinks a beer in a bar as do others in the background.
  • The sheriff shares a beer with his deputy.
  • Bob downs a quick shot of liquor while others also drink in the background.
  • A pool of blood spills onto the floor after a woman has been stabbed.
  • We see a murder scene with blood on a shower's walls and on the limited parts of the victim that are visible.
  • We see a body in the backseat of a truck that's a little bloody.
  • A man on the floor in a hostage situation is a little bloody.
  • Lane performs a tracheotomy on a man and we see his knife cut into the man's throat as well as him sticking a tube down into the resulting bloody hole.
  • We see a few photos of murder victims (with blood on the floor, etc...).
  • We see another slightly bloody body on a floor.
  • The killer slices open another man's leg, causing him to bleed to death quickly.
  • We see a flashback of a man being shot whose face is bloody.
  • A man whose neck has been cut is bloody and the side of the killer's head is also bloody.
  • A man is impaled on a broken off tree branch and blood runs down the front of him.
  • Obviously the killer has extreme cases of both.
  • Some locals in a bar decide to pick on Lane and then proceed to beat him up.
  • Frank works on this case despite being told by his superiors not to.
  • The two men running for sheriff have the usual political animosity toward each other.
  • A stranger appears at the LaCrosse home, and a babysitter gets unnerved by this. She then slowly makes her way through the house (much like in a horror film) thinking someone might be in there with her. A man then grabs her and lifts her from the floor.
  • Some locals in a bar decide to pick on Lane and then proceed to beat him up. They hit him many times until Bob holds a knife to one of them in a bathroom, threatening to cut off the man's penis (not seen). A tense standoff then follows.
  • A suspect holds a knife to a man's throat and Frank must deal with that situation.
  • Lane wakes up to find himself in a car with a train bearing down on him.
  • A man can't breathe in a diner and Lane must perform a tracheotomy on him.
  • The killer gets close to making a young store clerk his next victim.
  • Lane must rescue Bob who's trapped in his car that's precariously balanced on the edge of a snowy cliff. Moments later, Bob must rescue Lane in a similar situation.
  • There are several instances where Frank tries to chase after a train in a truck and on foot, both of which are suspenseful.
  • Thinking he's the suspect, Lane holds a gun on Bob and prepares to shoot him.
  • The entire ending of the movie is suspenseful with fighting and some precarious situations occurring (such as hanging off a train with a narrow tunnel approaching).
  • Knife: Used by the killer on his victims.
  • Handguns/Rifle: Used to threaten, wound, or kill people. See "Violence" for details.
  • Phrases: "Geez" and "Bastard."
  • A cat surprises a baby sitter who's then grabbed by an assailant.
  • The killer surprises Frank.
  • There is a heavy amount of suspenseful music throughout the film.
  • None.
  • At least 2 "f" words, 7 "s" words, 1 slang term for male genitals (the "d" word), 18 hells, 7 damns, 3 S.O.B.'s, 2 asses (1 using "hole"), 11 uses of "G-damn," 5 of "My God," 4 of "Oh my God," and 1 use each of "Swear to God," "God" and "Christ" as exclamations.
  • The inside of Bob's car is plastered with nude centerfolds and other pictures. We see many nude women (bare breasts, pubic hair, etc...) for quite some time as many scenes take place inside that car.
  • Sheriff Olmstead often has a cigar in his mouth.
  • Some people smoke in a bar and a few other minor characters smoke cigars.
  • Frank's son has been kidnaped and that's the driving force behind his obsession of finding the killer.
  • Picking up hitchhikers.
  • Serial killers and what motivates them.
  • An assailant grabs a woman and lifts her from the floor. She struggles, he cuts her with a knife (not seen, but inferred) and then lowers her to the floor where she bleeds to death.
  • We see a murder scene where two more people have been killed.
  • Some locals in a bar pick a fight with Lane. One of them hits him with a pool cue and then punches and knees him several times. He throws back a few punches, but they then hit him more. Meanwhile Bob holds a knife to one of them, threatening to cut off his penis (not seen), while another guy holds a gun on Lane.
  • Frank finds another murder victim in the backseat of a truck.
  • A suspect holds a knife to a man's throat and Frank then shoots the suspect in the leg.
  • The killer stabs and kills an auto mechanic (not seen).
  • Lane, thinking that Bob's the killer, aims a gun at him and then fires it once (but doesn't hit him).
  • The killer slices open another man's leg, causing him to bleed to death quickly.
  • We see a flashback of a man being shot whose face is bloody.
  • Several fights break out at the end. A man is hit with a shovel, a man's throat is cut, another man's leg is cut, etc...
  • A man is impaled on a broken off tree branch.

  • Reviewed October 28, 1997

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