on October 31, 1997 by Wade Major
   Screenwriters love their babies, and none more than the first, no matter how ugly or disfigured. Which probably accounts for why so many power-scribes, when given the shot to direct, seize the chance to resurrect their unproduced first scripts. Unfortunately, filmgoers generally don't share the screenwriter's affinity for his ill-begotten firstborn, causing such projects to die hard and fast at the boxoffice. Then again, there's usually a reason why the scripts remain `unproduced' in the first place.
   The latest victim of this increasingly prevalent syndrome is none other than Jeb Stuart, the high-profile writer of such action hits as "Die Hard" and "The Fugitive." Originally written when Stuart was a student in the early 80s, "Switchback" is purportedly near and dear to Stuart's heart, although one would never know it from the resulting film. An illogical, confusing, implausible, contrived and utterly amateurish serial killer tale, "Switchback" bungles almost every one of its many twists and turns, splicing genres and juggling its cardboard characters with uncanny ineptitude.
   Built on the otherwise reliable "hunter becomes the hunted" premise, "Switchback" follows a loose cannon FBI agent named Frank LaCrosse (Dennis Quaid) as he trails the serial killer responsible for kidnapping his son. Tracking the man's bloody trail from Texas into the Rockies, LaCrosse finds a friend in rural sheriff Buck Olmstead (R. Lee Ermey), an old-style Western lawman whose preference for principle over politics risks losing him a forthcoming election to his pearl-toothed rival McGinnis (William Fichtner).
   Intercut with all of this is a mini-road picture starring Danny Glover as an ex-rail worker and Jared Leto as the hitchhiking ex-physician he picks up and befriends. Eventually, it becomes clear that either Glover or Leto is the killer and that some kind of trap is being laid for Quaid, although the precise mechanics and details of this plot are never really clear. So tedious and lacking in suspense is the intercutting of these two threads, in fact, that most audiences will likely tune out well before the film limps to its climactic set piece.
   Nonetheless, Stuart tries hard to keep things interesting, lacing his cliches with unusual twists and turns, even going to far as to challenge the very profile of a serial killer entirely. But without the motivations and characterization to drive them, the twists become little more than mechanical contrivances that underscore an otherwise thoroughly uninspired concept.    Starring Dennis Quaid, Danny Glover, Jared Leto, Ted Levine, R. Lee Ermey, William Fichtner. Directed by Jeb Stuart. Written by Jeb Stuart. Produced by Gale Anne Hurd. A Paramount release. Thriller. Rated R. Running time: 119 min.
Tags: Starring Dennis Quaid, Danny Glover, Jared Leto, Ted Levine, R. Lee Ermey, William Fichtner. Directed by Jeb Stuart, Written by Jeb Stuart, Produced by Gale Anne Hurd, Paramount, Thriller

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