Review: ‘Midnight in the Switchgrass,’ starring Megan Fox, Bruce Willis and Emile Hirsch

August 31, 2021

by Carla Hay

Megan Fox and Bruce Willis in “Midnight in the Switchgrass” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Midnight in the Switchgrass”

Directed by Randall Emmett

Culture Representation: Taking place in Florida, the dramatic film “Midnight in the Switchgrass” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Law enforcement officials try to capture an elusive serial killer who targets prostitutes for murder.

Culture Audience: “Midnight in the Switchgrass” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching boring, forumlaic and predictable crime dramas.

Lukas Haas and Megan Fox in “Midnight in the Switchgrass” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

It’s quite a stretch to call “Midnight in the Switchgrass” an “original movie,” since this formulaic dud recycles every movie/TV cliché about cops looking for a serial killer who targets prostitutes. If you’ve seen any movie with the same concept, then you know exactly what to expect in “Midnight in the Switchgrass.” A derivative film might be mildly acceptable if there was some excitement in the story or if the characters had charisma.

But the filmmakers of “Midnight in the Switchgrass” made no attempt at having anything in the movie that that could be described as “suspenseful” or “surprising.” And the cast members look like they’re just going through the motions. There are zombies that have better personalities than almost all of the characters in this dull and dreary crime drama.

Directed by Randall Emmett and written by Alan Horsnail, “Midnight in the Switchgrass” doesn’t even have a clever title. The movie’s title refers to a switchgrass field in Florida where the killer keeps some of his victims captive in a hidden storm tunnel. Switchgrass is also mentioned as a place where one of the serial killer’s murder victims used to hide as a child to escape from an abusive father. The movie takes place mostly in Florida’s Pensacola area, where two cops from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement are on the hunt for the serial killer. (This movie was actually filmed in Los Angeles and Puerto Rico.)

“Midnight in the Switchgrass” has probably gotten more publicity for being the movie set where co-stars Megan Fox and Colson Baker (also known as musician Machine Gun Kelly) fell in love. Fox separated from her actor husband Brian Austin Green after finishing the movie. She and Baker went public with their romance after that. It’s probably the only thing that people will remember about this dreadful movie.

Fox and Baker have just one very short scene together in “Midnight in the Switchgrass,” near the beginning of the film. She portrays an undercover cop named Rebecca Lombardi, who usually goes undercover as a prostitute. (How stereotypical.) Baker plays a sleazy pimp named Calvin “Calxco” Colton, who’s got Rebecca in a motel room, and he wants her to do some prostitution work for him, but she’s stalling.

The sting almost goes awry when Calxco starts to get rough with Rebecca, and it seems as if he won’t let her leave the motel room. She fights back in ways that show she’s not a typical hooker but someone who’s got combat skills. Luckily, Rebecca was able to alert her police colleagues through audio surveillance, and the cops arrive in time to arrest Calxco.

One of the colleagues who worked with her on this sting is Byron Crawford (played by Emile Hirsch), an earnest cop with a very fake-sounding Southern accent, thanks to Hirsch’s terrible acting in the movie. Byron ends up taking the lead on the investigation into the prostitute murders that are plaguing the area. Byron and Rebecca want Claxco to give information about who’s been murdering prostitutes and dumping their bodies along the highway. Claxco gives a clue about what the suspected killer’s truck looks like, and then Claxco isn’t seen in the movie again.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, because the investigation of this prostitute-murdering serial killer uses the same formula as other similar movies and TV shows. The obligatory grizzled and jaded cop veteran is FBI agent Karl Helter (played by Bruce Willis), who’s only in about 25% of the movie. Translation: “Midnight in the Switchgrass” didn’t have the budget to hire Willis in a role where he would get most of the screen time. Willis looks like he’s just there for the easy salary, and he looks completely “checked out” emotionally in this movie.

The only important thing that Karl tells the Florida cops is that the federal government doesn’t want to get involved in finding this serial killer. And so, Byron and Rebecca do most of the legwork to solve the case. And you know what that means: Rebecca is going undercover as a hooker again, so that she can be bait for the serial killer. You can almost do a countdown to when she gets held captive by the serial killer. (And it would be easy to predict, even if it wasn’t shown in the movie’s trailer.)

Through surveillance footage, the cops find out that the serial killer is most likely a truck driver, because many of the murder victims were last seen at or near a truck stop. There’s even surveillance video of one the of murder victims being forced to leave with him. And sure enough, the killer really is a truck driver. The movie’s trailer shows his face, so it’s not spoiler information to reveal that the killer is a married father named Peter (played by Lukas Haas), who’s been leading a double life.

Predictably, Peter has a “Jekyll & Hyde” personality: He’s mild-mannered and quiet to most people, but he’s a rage-filled monster when he’s alone with his victims. He doesn’t kill all of his victims right away, but he keeps them tied up in the storm tunnel to torture and sexually assault them. Peter also has a barn with a locked door to hide a lot of evidence related to his murders. Because the movie reveals early on who the serial killer is, there’s no mystery or suspense. The screenplay for “Midnight in the Switchgrass” is so lazy and generic, there’s not even an explanation for why Peter turned out the way that he did.

It must be frustrating for aspiring filmmakers who have truly original ideas for movies but can’t get the financing for these movies to be made, while unimaginative junk like “Midnight in the Switchgrass” is churned out, just because some actors with well-known names signed on to the project. You can almost hear the thought process of the “Midnight in the Switchgrass” producers: “Sure, there’s already a lot of movies and TV shows about cops looking for a serial killer, but this movie doesn’t have to be good, as long as we might make a profit from it.”

“Midnight in the Switchgrass” is the type of sexist movie where almost all of the adult female characters have shallow, underdeveloped roles as prostitute crime victims or dutiful wives/mothers at home. Peter has a wife named Karen (played by Lydia Hull) and a daughter named Bethany (played by Olive Elise Abercrombie), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Peter’s wife and daughter have no idea that he has this secret life as a serial killer. Byron has a baby daughter named Bella with his wife Suzanna (played by Jackie Cruz), who does nothing in this movie but fret over her husband

And the movie doesn’t really care to give the prostitute victims any real personalities. They have names like Heather (played by Sistine Rose Stallone), Chastity (played by Katalina Viteri), Tracey (played by Caitlin Carmichael) and Sarah, who has no dialogue in the movie because she’s already dead. Peter’s victims are typically all young and pretty.

In one unrealistic scene, one of the prostitutes invites Peter into her motel room before they even discuss the price of her services. You don’t have to be a sex worker to know that’s just not the way they do business. A sex worker wouldn’t invite a potential customer to a room until the sex worker knows first how much the customer is going to pay.

As for undercover cop Rebecca, she’s one of the few women in the movie who isn’t a prostitute or a dutiful wife/mother. However, she still spends about half of her screen time pretending to be a hooker. It’s just an excuse to have Fox in a movie where she has to dress like a prostitute and spend a considerable amount of screen time being tied up in the scenes where she’s been kidnapped.

There’s a half-hearted attempt to make Rebecca a little feisty, but the dialogue is so bland for all of the characters, viewers who have the misfortune of sitting through this dreck will have a hard time remembering any specific lines of conversations after the movie is over. If you make it to the end without falling asleep, you’ll find that “Midnight in the Switchgrass” fails to live up to its description as a “thriller,” since there is almost nothing in this horrific misfire that is thrilling.

Lionsgate released “Midnight in the Switchgrass” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on July 23, 2021, and on Blu-ray and DVD on July 27, 2021.

Review: ‘Force of Nature’ (2020), starring Emile Hirsch, Kate Bosworth, Mel Gibson, David Zayas and Stephanie Cayo

July 1, 2020

Mel Gibson, Emile Hirsch, Kate Bosworth and Stephanie Cayo in “Force of Nature” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Force of Nature” (2020) 

Directed by Michael Polish

Culture Representation: Taking place in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the action flick “Force of Nature” has a racially diverse cast (white people, Latinos and one African American) portraying middle-class citizens and criminals.

Culture Clash: During a hurricane, two police officers and four other people in an apartment building try to fight off a gang of ruthless thieves who’ve invaded the mostly evacuated building to steal a safe full of valuables worth $55 million.

Culture Audience: “Force of Nature” will appeal primarily to people who like movies with a lot of gun violence but very little substance.

Emile Hirsch and William Catlett in “Force of Nature” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

Let’s say you’re in a gang of thieves who want to pull off the perfect heist in a building when there won’t be hardly anyone in the building. When do you want to commit this crime? During a hurricane, of course. That’s the premise behind the laughably bad action movie “Force of Nature,” whose stupidity is as relentless as the fake torrential rain that’s supposed to pass for a Category 5 hurricane in this mess of a story.

Directed by Michael Polish and written by Cory Miller, “Force of Nature” can’t even get basic elements right when it comes to portraying a hurricane in the movie. In “Force of Nature,” the Category 5 hurricane just looks like a heavy rain storm on the Category 2 level, since the wind gusts in the outside fight scenes are very mild compared to what a real Category 5 hurricane looks like.

But people who make these kinds of mindless movies aren’t really too concerned about realism or having a believable story. Their main concern is to stage as much violence and stunt shots to fill up the story with as much action as possible and distract from the flimsy plot. However, even the action scenes in “Force of Nature” are unimaginative and very repetitive.

In “Force of Nature” (which takes place in San Juan, Puerto Rico), viewers are introduced to the main protagonist: A police officer whose last name is Cardillo (his first name is never mentioned; he’s portrayed by Emile Hirsh), who is shown in the beginning of the film by himself in a bathtub with a gun pointed in his mouth. Cardillo doesn’t go through with shooting himself, and when he gets dressed, viewers see that he’s a police officer. Why is he suicidal? It’s revealed later in the movie.

Now that we know that this cop is suicidal, you have to wonder if it’s deliberate or a coincidence that this “gun in mouth” scene is similar to the “gun in mouth” scene in 1987’s “Lethal Weapon,” which had Mel Gibson also portraying a suicidal cop. It’s worth mentioning this comparison, since Gibson plays an angry retired cop in “Force of Nature.” We’ll get to that in a moment.

When Cardillo goes to work, he’s less than thrilled to find out that he’s supposed to train a new partner that day: Jess Peña (played by Stephanie Cayo), who has a fairly upbeat personality, but is no pushover when a cranky Cardillo makes it obvious that he doesn’t want to work with her.

Puerto Rico is about to go on lockdown because of an impending Category 5 hurricane, so Jess has been assigned to work with Cardillo to train on how to evacuate residents. They’ve been called to assist in an apartment building where two of the residents stubbornly refuse to evacuate.

Meanwhile, a crime boss named John, nicknamed John the Baptist (played by David Zayas), and one of his henchmen have taken an elderly lady named Mrs. Gradisher (played by Leslee Emmett) to a bank, where they force her by gunpoint to open a safe-deposit box in a private room. There’s cash in the box (which the thugs take), but what they’re really more interested in is a painting in the box.

As they start to leave the bank, John coldly executes the lady in the head in the bank lobby. Several horrified people in the bank have witnessed the shooting. Therefore, not only are these criminals ruthless, they also don’t care about being seen committing murder without any disguises, in full view of witnesses and security cameras.

Meanwhile, at a grocery store, a man named Jason Griffin (played by William Catlett) has stocked up on a cartload of meat. He’s taken so much meat that there’s no more left for other customers. Griffin gets into a dispute with another man who asks Jason for one packet of meat, but Griffin refuses.

The angry customer than gets a store manager and falsely claims that Griffin stole a package of meat right out of the hands of the other customer’s son. Even though Griffin denies it, the manager sides with the other customer and asks Griffin to leave the store. (There are some racial undertones to this scene, since Griffin is African American and the other customer is not.)

Before he leaves, Griffin lunges at the other customer in anger. And the next thing you know, the police are called. Guess who are the cops who show up to respond to this incident? Cardillo and Jess, of course.

The customer who started the dispute declines to press charges on Griffin, who is released from police custody. When Cardillo asks Griffin why he was trying to buy all that meat, Griffin explains that he wanted to feed his cat Janet before the hurricane arrived.

And it just so happens that Griffin lives in the same apartment building where Cardillo and Jess were headed to assist in an evacuation. Cardillo and Jess agree to let Griffin back into this apartment to feed his cat, on the condition that Griffin immediately evacuate after the cat is fed.

It’s easy to figure out, based on the type of meat and the large quantities that Griffin was going to buy, that he does not have a regular domestic cat. But apparently, these two cops are too dumb to notice these clues, and they’re shocked when they find out what type of cat Griffin has. This animal is the reason for a subplot to the movie that won’t be revealed in this review.

Meanwhile, the two residents of the building who refuse to evacuate are retired cop Ray (played by Gibson) and another retirement-age man named Paul Bergkamp (played by Jorge Luis Ramos), who is originally from Germany. Bergkamp has no one else in his apartment, but Ray’s daughter Troy (played by Kate Bosworth, who’s married in real life to “Force of Nature” director Polish) is in the apartment with Ray, because she’s been unsuccessfully trying get him to evacuate.

Troy is a doctor (her medical skills come in handy later in the story), but she tells Jess, “He doesn’t exactly respond to female authority,” which is why Ray won’t listen to her. (We might never know if Gibson’s own reputation for making sexist comments had anything to do with why he got cast in this role.)

At any rate, Ray is an ill-tempered curmudgeon who immediately says when the cops arrive to evacuate him: “The current PD [police department] is full of pussies who care more about liberties and politics. I’m staying here.”

The only other known person at the apartment building is the superintendent, who is outside boarding up and securing windows. Not long after Cardillo and Jess have the displeasure of meeting Ray, Cardillo witnesses the superintendent getting gunned down by John and his small gang of thugs. Why are these criminals at this apartment? To get to a safe that has $55 million worth of valuables.

The rest of the movie’s action is a showdown between the bad guys and the people at the apartment. And just to make it harder for anyone to escape, the apartment elevator just happens to be not working. And did we mention that Ray has an arsenal of weapons at his disposal?

Gibson seems to be very self-aware of his controversial reputation, because he plays Ray to the hilt as an anti-hero, so there’s almost an element of camp to his acting. The rest of the cast members play it straight in this very formulaic, cheaply made action flick. The visual effects are tacky, and the director does a sloppy job with the action sequences, where it’s obvious to see who the stunt doubles are.

Much of the dialogue in “Force of Nature” is also very cringeworthy. At one point in the movie, Jess says, “Let’s go. Rock me like hurricane.” “Force of Nature” is supposed to take place during a hurricane, but the movie itself is another kind of disaster.

Lionsgate released “Force of Nature” on digital and VOD on June 30, 2020.

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