Switchback

Austin Chronicle

DIRECTED BY: Jeb Stuart

REVIEWED: 11-10-97

Dennis Quaid, Danny Glover, Jared Leto, F. Lee Ermey. (R, 120 min.)

Funny what a difference 17 years can make. In 1980, novice screenwriter Jeb Stuart drafted a script about a serial killer, entitled Going West in America, that got Hollywood all hot and bothered. Although unproduced at the time, the draft screenplay opened the door for Stuart, who went on to script Die Hard, The Fugitive, and other high-profile thrillers and action films. With these kinds of writing credits under his belt, you'd think that Stuart's first script effort -- and now his directorial debut -- might prove to be something mildly interesting, if not downright captivating. Unfortunately, that's rarely the case, largely because the serial killer angle in SwitchBack (the ill-conceived retitling of Going West in America) seems dated, almost passé in the wake of films such as The Silence of the Lambs and Seven. (The irony is that under contemporary standards, the script comes off as less-than-original, even derivative.) Granted, the intertwined storylines of the killer's murderous rampage and the kidnapping of a FBI agent's young son starts off as an intriguing narrative conceit, but even with its twists and turns, SwitchBack can't sustain what the genre requires, even up to its snowy climax on a train in the Colorado mountains. The acting is decent, with Glover and Ermey seemingly enjoying themselves as a former railroadman and an Amarillo lawman, respectively. (Quaid, on the other hand, is pretty grim throughout -- no alligator grin here.) Knowing the torturous history of SwitchBack, you feel somewhat badly for Stuart and the others involved in the film because it's such an earnest effort. It all comes down to being a case of the wrong place, the wrong time.

2.0 stars

--Steve Davis

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