Producers: Randall Emmett, George Furla, Tim Sullivan, Nick Koskoff, Alex Eckert and Luillo Ruiz   Director: Randall Emmett   Screenplay: Alan Horsnail   Cast: Megan Fox, Bruce Willis, Emile Hirsch, Lukas Haas, Colson Baker (aka Machine Gun Kelly), Michael Beach, Caitlin Carmichael, Lydia Hull, Sistine Stallone,  Olive Elise Abercrombie, Jackie Cruz, Donovan Carter and Welker White   Distributor: Lionsgate

Grade: C-

Randall Emmett is a prolific producer, but this represents his first stab at directing.  He should have resisted the urge to broaden his horizons.  “Midnight in the Switchgrass” is a flat, unsuspenseful and generally repellent would-be thriller about the search for a serial killer. 

The Florida-set script by Alan Horsnail, another first-timer, centers on the effort to track down the perpetrator in a series of murders of prostitutes around Pensacola.  Megan Fox and Bruce Willis play Rebecca Lombardi and Karl Helter, a pair of FBI agents who are on his trail, thanks to the contact Rebecca has made with a prime suspect via a chat room.  She’ll be the bait that lures him to a meeting at a seedy motel, and they’ll pounce.

Unfortunately, their plan goes awry.  The killer, a trucker named Peter (Lukas Haas) is diverted from the assignation by the appearance of Tracey Lee ( Caitlin Carmichael), a sex worker who stumbles out of the motel in a drug-and-alcohol haze and is promptly accosted by a burly driver whom Peter saves her from; he then offers her a place for the night.  The identity of the killer is hardly a spoiler, since the movie tries to keep Peter’s intentions ambiguous for a few seconds at most.  For Rebecca and Karl, the only consolation is that she gets to rough up Carlin (Colson Baker, aka Machine Gun Kelly), a slimy dude who comes to her room, recognizes her and instigates a fight.

Meanwhile, straight-arrow state policeman Byron Crawford (Emile Hirsch) is frustrated that his lieutenant (Donovan Carter) refuses to give him permission to work the case of the murdered women, and decides to pursue it anyway.  While Lombardi interviews Tracey Lee’s sister Heather (Sistine Stallone) about her disappearance, Crawford visits the latest victim’s mother Georgia (Welker White) to offer his condolences and assure her of his commitment to find her killer.

By this time Helter announces his decision to leave the investigation, which he sees as reckless and damaging to his private life.  Fortunately by this time Lombardi has met Crawford, and they decide to join forces to set another trap for the killer, this time arranging a meeting at a crowded honky-tonk bar.  Like Lombardi’s previous efforts, this one also goes south, leaving her in the hands of Peter, who, as it turns out, is still holding Tracey Lee hostage.

The ineptitude of the law, at both local and federal levels, is as conspicuous here as it is in the many TV series “Midnight” resembles—as is its ham-handed attempts to add some complexity to a couple of the characters.  Rebecca and Karl get short shrift in that department; she gets no personal backstory whatever, while his is dismissed in a couple of lines of dialogue. 

On the other hand, both Byron and Peter are allotted views of their home life, though they’re fairly sketchy.  Crawford’s wife is the worrywart who complains about whether she can be certain he’ll make it home in one piece every night, while Peter has a darling daughter (Olive Elise Abercrombie) who dotes on him and plays a major part in the ultimate final confrontation—quite a grisly affair—at their remote homestead, which Crawford has located through sheer happenstance and reaches just in time.  Willis, who has been missing through much of the final reel—perhaps off shooting another B-movie—shows up for a maudlin coda. 

There’s little in the movie that avid viewers of TV crime shows won’t have seen before, though the degree of physical nastiness goes beyond network broadcast limits.  Of the stars, Fox and Hirsch are committed enough even though their characters are colorless; Willis seems to be on autopilot, while Haas is obtrusively shifty.  One has to feel for Carmichael as well as Fox for the unpleasantness they both have to endure in the last act.

As far as the technical side of things goes, the picture, largely shot in Puerto Rico though some scenes were filmed in Cleveland after a hiatus due to pandemic conditions, has a dank, gritty look courtesy of the cinematography by Duane Charles Manwiller and Bradley Stonesifer and the production design by Mailara Santana Pomales and Travis Zariwny.  Colby Parker Jr.’s editing adds to the dully brooding atmosphere, as does the music by composers Robin Stout and Liam Westbrook and supervisor Mike Burns.

With a cumbersome title that will hardly attract many viewers, “Midnight in the Switchgrass” proves a sensationalistic piece of serial-killer pulp marked by poor writing, clumsy direction and indifferent acting.