There is scarcely a cliché of the 1990s Hollywood thriller that is not
to be found in Switchback, written and directed by Jeb Stuart. By now,
the figure of the serial killer — so rare in nature, so common in the
movies — has become such a familiar one that a filmmaker like Stuart will
think nothing of insulting our intelligence with a specimen of the genre who
kills not for sexual thrills nor money nor any discernible reason at all but
just because it is in his job description. I beg your pardon (or you can stop
reading now) if you mean to waste your time and money on this nonsense and wish
to preserve whatever pathetic thrill it is you get from the undemanding task of
guessing whodunnit, but the bad guy here is a friendly old railroad worker
called Bob (Danny Glover). He turns out a sicko who kills by slicing through the
femoral arteries not of just of virginal maidens but (among others) old men who
have known and befriended him for years.

This is territory that even the Marquis de Sade never dreamed of. Of course
we’re not supposed to believe
it. This is the movies after all, and the point is simply to make the murderer
the least likely of the candidates for the job, at whatever cost in credibility.
We are also, and inevitably, provided with an alternative candidate (Jared
Leeto) — who, by the rules of movie serial killing, cannot have done it
because he so obviously must have done it — and a renegade FBI agent called
Frank LaCrosse (Dennis Quaid) who risks his career to pursue the killer (the
typically cretinous FBI has closed the case) because the latter has kidnapped
his son
! Being a playful kind of guy — as movie serial killers generally
are and real ones generally
aren’t — Bob then sends LaCrosse
cryptic messages containing clues, undecipherable by anyone except movie-cops,
as to where he may be found.

“He turned it into a damn game on
you,” says the fatherly Texas sheriff
called Buck Olmstead (R. Lee Ermey) who helps Frank at a crucial moment when he
is on the run from his FBI colleagues and towards an inevitably dramatic
confrontation with the killer. Buck even chooses to lose his bid for re-election
rather than detain poor Frank at the behest of the feds. That may not be quite
as ridiculously unbelievable as Danny Glover playing a serial killer, but it
comes pretty close. Like his killer, Stuart has turned his handiwork into a damn
game on us, but it is not a game many will find it amusing to play.

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