Today on what is Bruce Willis up to in the B-movie lane we have Midnight In The Switchgrass (isn’t that a cool title though?), a moody, subdued southern gothic potboiler by way of a serial killer procedural that I actually really enjoyed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still DTV, it’s low budget and rough around the edges but a genuine effort was made here by first time director Randall Emmett, a truly impressive cast is assembled, all of whom are clearly having fun and a mood is established through soundtrack, suspense and down to earth writing that cannot be written off as simply B grade trash. Somewhere along the desolate Florida interstate a nasty serial killer is kidnapping women, murdering them and dumping their bodies. Various factions of law enforcement are desperately trying to stop him including two world weary FBI agents (Willis & Megan Fox) and one undeterred state police rogue (Emile Hirsch) who has been looking for this monster for some years. The killer is played by Lukas Haas which isn’t really a spoiler since the trailers reveal that fact, he’s a real formidable, despicable force here, made all the more sickening by the fact that he has a wife and young daughter of his own who, by default, are constantly at risk of him having a full meltdown. Fox is terrific here, the more assertive of the pair, she has great chemistry with Willis and some sharply delivered lines that illustrate her character. She has a few scenes with musical artist Machine Gun Kelly (now her real life boyfriend), playing a violent, trash-bag motel pimp who once saw the killer briefly and is therefore an asset to the case, as hard to control as he is, he crackles with a sleazy, downtrodden volatility. Hirsch is so intense, fired up and doggedly earnest it sometimes feels like he’ll jump out of the screen, run around your living room and knock over the furniture, I miss when he was in the spotlight and he’s very good here. As for the film, it all depends on how you look at it. Yes, Willis has fallen from grace, admittedly he doesn’t get much to do here beyond an extended cameo and naturally this comes nowhere close to his iconic films we’re all used to, but as a brooding, atmospheric, slightly run of the mill yet still distinctive and ever so slightly horror tinged procedural thriller you can certainly do a *lot* worse. There are some mournful, melancholic soundtrack choices with beautifully sung lyrics and titles like “No Time Left”, “Maybe Heaven” and “Are You Washed In The Blood” that are used strategically at key moments and just add so much personality and emotion to the story. So, it ain’t high pedigree cinema, but in my eyes it is a commendable genre effort that held my attention, had some nice cinematic flourishes, a brutally suspenseful final act, a cast worth clapping for and lyrical atmospheric tension that I really connected with.
Because the Transformers franchise has become an unwieldy cloud of toxic waste over the years, most seem to have forgotten how enjoyable the first one was. Michael Bay gets an awful rap for these, and by all means he deserves any shade thrown his way for some of the sequels, but I’m still convinced they only got made to cash in on the massive Asian market, I’ve heard that stuff like this is huge over there. This first film is a little saner and a lot more focused though, with a sort of 90’s Amblin infused vibe crossed with big budget CGI disaster mayhem of our current era, which is par for the course in a film directed by Michael Bay, as are lens flares, a grossly backlit slow motion kissing scene, explosions, fetishistic attention to the details of military protocol, montages of various factions of Americana playing out and um…cameos from loud sassy African American actors. Based on the Hasbro toy of the same name as well as probably an animated show that came before it, Bay ramps up the scale, special effects, human characters and exposition to somewhat plausibly set the Autobots and Decepticons loose in our world, engaged in noisy warfare over the All Spark, a cube of untold power that looks not so distantly related to the Tesseract. Caught in the middle is Shia Lebeouf as Sam Witwicky, a nervous teen whose family history hides something related to the Tranformers mythology, naturally sending him and the obligatory super hot love interest (Megan Fox) on a wild goose chase of stuff blowing up. There’s also various military factions caught up in the squabble including intrepid soldiers Josh Dumahel, Amaury Nolasco and Tyrese Gibson, research scientists Rachael Taylor and Anthony Anderson, Jon Voight as the grave Secretary of defense, John Turturro in pure comic relief form as a hapless federal agent and uh… Bernie Mac too, as the world’s saltiest used car salesman. The Shia Lebeouf angle has a cool 90’s sort of Joe Dante vibe, right down to the presence of consummate 90’s dad Kevin Dunn, naturally playing Sam’s father. While it goes a little off the rails in a final battle that pretty much levels an entire city to the ground and numbs any sense of realism to a dull roar, there’s a lot of fun to be had with the film, especially in the special effects used to bring these mechanical goliaths to life. Bumblebee is always a fan favourite, Optimus Prime looks fantastic and Hugo Weaving brings the vicious Megatron to life nicely. Steve Jablonsky almost outdoes his score for Bay’s The Island here, giving a magisterial composition that’s large and loud enough to accompany the Transformers on their journey and fills the film with noise, as the does the Oscar nominated sound design. Like I said, the sequels have become an impossible wall of deafening, uncalled for noise in the years since and it’s a shame because this one gets tainted in people’s memory when it’s still a good time.