We open with a babysitter answering a knock at the door by a grinning dork (Brent Hinkley). After he leaves, the babysitter is almost immediately killed by a masked murderer, and the toddler she was in charge of being whisked away. End scene. R. Lee Ermey plays a Texas sheriff hoping to be re-elected, when it appears a murderer has hit his town. His political rival, by the way, is the Chief of Police, played by a smarmy William Fichtner, always looking to get one over on the sheriff for last minute political points scoring. Anyway, grim-faced FBI agent Dennis Quaid comes to town to inform the sheriff that this is a serial killer they are looking for, one he’s personally been after for years. However, there’s something a little too intense about Quaid’s pursuit here, and a call from his superior indeed lets us know that all may not be well with him. Meanwhile, separate from all this we meet medical school dropout Jared Leto, a hitchhiker who accepts a lift from strapping, cowboy hat-sporting, Cadillac driving Danny Glover. The driver is a genial, talkative ex-railroad worker, but something about him seems not quite right. Perhaps it’s the nudie pics all over the car’s interior, or perhaps he seems just a tad too friendly to be genuine. And what’s the deal with secretive Leto dropping out of med school? Where is he headed? Is one of these two men the killer?
Although it has its flaws and didn’t do much at the box-office, this directorial debut by writer/director Jeb Stuart (co-writer of “Die Hard” and “The Fugitive”) is a really interesting killer-thriller. It’s one of those films where you can probably guess the killer, but unlike most, it proves not to be a problem, because you’re never 100% sure that you’re not falling for a red herring (until the killer is revealed pretty early anyway), and the film plays as much like a character study (of four main characters) as a killer thriller anyway. It’s kind of like the later “Outside Ozona”, with its evil killer and sleepy town setting, but obviously much more successful than that film.
The backdrop of hick politics between R. Lee Ermey’s tough ‘ol sheriff and William Fichtner’s typically oily a-hole opponent (the latter is perfectly cast) is fun, too. It also contains perhaps one of the last good performances of Danny Glover’s career, before his ill-fitting dentures started to call too much attention to themselves and he started to choose wonky projects. He immediately steals the film here from everyone else. In fact, it’s one of his very best performances, as a guy who the more genial and happy he seems, the more intimidating and unsettling he is. But the question is, does that necessarily make him a serial killer? Or just a cheerful creep with nudie pics on the interior of his car? The fact that Glover seems so obviously creepy has you constantly doubting your suspicions throughout. That, and some questions regarding even Dennis Quaid’s character really do keep you guessing throughout in this twisty story. How twisty? Former drill sergeant R. Lee Ermey plays one of the only guys in the film you know is unlikely to be the killer. How often does Ermey get to play a good guy? Hell, how often does he get to play a role where he’s not shouting profane insults at someone? The best thing is that he’s genuinely good in the role, he’s not just phoning in his performance in this stock role. I must make particular mention of the opening scene, which is pretty perfect with Brent Hinkley as basically a psycho Howdy Doody. Also notable is the stunning widescreen cinematography by Oliver Wood (“Die Hard 2”, “Safe House”), with particularly good use of wintry locations (Texas, Utah, and New Mexico specifically).
It takes a while to get going and both Dennis Quaid and Jared Leto are perhaps a tad too transparently cast (though Quaid’s performance is solid as ever), but it’s hardly slow and never boring. It’s actually pretty nifty stuff, and is definitely worth seeing for Glover’s excellent performance. One of the better serial killer flicks of the late 90s, if you ask me. It’s a real shame Stuart has rarely worked in the industry since, because he does a pretty decent job here in both of the capacities he’s working in. I mean, this is better than earlier screenwriting efforts of his like “Leviathan” and the awful “Just Cause”, and his direction is really solid. What happened?