It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"SwitchBack'' is not a good movie, but it does an admirable job of distracting us from how bad it is. If they'd thrown out the two leading characters and started all over with the locations, the lore and the supporting actors, they might have had something here. Time and again the movie fascinates us with digressions, only to jerk back to the helpless main story line.
There are two threads to the action. One involves a long car journey through the west by Bob, a former railroad worker (Danny Glover) and Lane (Jared Leto), a hitchhiker with a secret in his past. The other involves Sheriff Buck Olmstead (R. Lee Ermey) of Amarillo, Texas, and Frank LaCrosse, the FBI agent (Dennis Quaid) who has just turned up in town.
The agent is on the trail of a serial killer. They've been involved in a cat-and- mouse game for months or years, but now the rules have changed: The killer has kidnapped the agent's young son, and so the bureau has pulled the agent off the case, because it would be a conflict of interest. Would it ever.
The rules of movies like this require that the serial killer must be one of the characters on screen. We easily narrow the suspects to the railway worker or the hitchhiker--unless the FBI agent is an impostor, which is also a possibility. Clues are scattered prodigiously. The killer knows how to sever arteries with a scalpel. So does the hitchhiker Lane, a former medical student. The killer is maybe driving a Cadillac lined with centerfold pin-ups. So is Bob. And what about Frank, the FBI man: How can he be so sure that the violent hostage-taker just arrested in Amarillo, who was driving another car linked to the serial killer, isn't the right man? All of this is plot stuff, and unreels as plot stuff does. None of it is very interesting, especially since we know too soon who the serial killer is, and he's not very convincing. Yes, there's suspense about whether he'll kill again. But let's put it this way: After two of the possibilities save each other's lives, we doubt they'll go on to kill each other in the next act.