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Film Review: No Good Deed (2014)

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SYNOPSIS:

An unstable escaped convict terrorizes a woman who is alone with her two children.

REVIEW:

There are times when I go to a movie, unaware of what it’s all about, and I’m genuinely surprised at its quality. There are times that I go to a movie, knowing exactly what it’s all about, and its quality is dubious at best. Then there are times when I go to see movies like No Good Deed, and find myself surprised at its gloss but saddened over just about everything else about it.

Idris Elba (Pacific Rim, Luther) plays Colin Evans, a convicted murderer, who is up for parole at the beginning of the film. By all appearances, he seems pretty normal and his impassioned plea to the parole board is indeed quite persuasive. But just as it seems like he’s going to get his wish, one member delivers the news that hes been studying the circumstances behind why Evans was put behind bars in the first place. He describes Evans as a “Malignant Narcissist“, who is massively persuasive – and massively destructive when he doesn’t get his way. The parole board decides to deny Evans a release, and he’s sent back to jail. During the drive back to the prison he’s called home for the last 5 years, Evans feigns a nose bleed and, while he receives some attention from the guard sitting with him, manages to disarm and murder both the guard and the driver of the van.

The first place he goes to is his ex girlfriend’s neighborhood, where he spies on her during a lunch engagement with another man. He then goes to her home, where he waits for her to return, and once she does – he murders her (After asking her some predictable questions regarding her fidelity). He then drives off, only to get caught up in a storm during which he drives off the road, wrecking his stolen car. He emerges from the car relatively unscathed, save for a nasty gash on the side of his forehead and goes off in the rain to find some help. He stops at the first house he sees and finds Terri (Taraji P. Henson), who’s alone in the house with her two young children. Her husband is away on a trip celebrating his dad’s birthday, so the three of them are alone. After knocking on her door and asking if he could use her phone to call for a tow, she lets him in to dry off and he begins to methodically gain her trust. But remember, he’s a convicted murderer who has a chip on his shoulder – and she’s all alone with her kids.

On a cold, windy & wet night…

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There’s a whole lot of talent both in front of and behind the camera in No Good Deed, which only makes the end result that much more lamentable. Idris Elba is an imposing presence and has some serious acting chops and Taraji P. Henson is a academy award nominated actress (The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button/2008). Director Sam Miller is responsible for some of the more compelling television shows you’ve seen lately (Luther, Black Sails). You’d figure that since the three of them agreed to participate in this film, that it must be something special. But the script (By Aimee Lagos) is so rote, so familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a movie in their life, that any hope of being surprised or thrilled by it, is washed away five minutes into the movie.

It’s not as if the setup isn’t particularly gripping. Although it’s as familiar as an old slipper, there’s room for some innovation in the story. But Lagos is content to just put up a staid framework that offers nothing new to the hoary story. To make matters worse, the script decides to make Evans something of an unstoppable force of nature – a character who just won’t die, no matter what’s thrown at him. Put a bad William Shatner mask on him and Elba could be playing Michael Myers. But this is just one of a bunch of tired, shop worn tropes that the script pulls out in an attempt to make the film scary.

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There are some exceedingly stupid moments in No Good Deed that defy explanation (Even if you’ve seen it all before). In one scene (after she begins to realize that something is really wrong with Evans), Terri discovers that all of the knives have been removed from her knife block. She then panics before running out of the kitchen, but doesn’t she have any other knives in the numerous drawers littering her kitchen? When confronted by Evans in a room with two entrance doors located across from each other, why does she run upstairs instead of doing an end around and clocking Evans on the head with something really heavy? Why is there always a best friend (Played here by Leslie Bibb), who’s slightly promiscuous and smart enough to figure out that something is wrong with the baddie before her friend does? And why does this promiscuous best friend always tell the bad guy that the jig is up when they’re alone in a room? Don’t they know that they’re gonna die right after they threaten the bad guy?

There are at least a half dozen more instances of “WTF” moments that made me wonder if anyone was looking at the dailies while the film was in production (Didn’t anyone notice that the gash on Evans’ forehead kept disappearing & reappearing?). But despite the stupidity of what was going on, the film is kind of compelling in a odd way. What I mean to say is that although I wasn’t particularly impressed with what was going on, I wanted to see it through to the end – good actors can make stupid scripts seem a lot better than they are. Elba & Henson make No Good Deed a lot better than it actually is, and both of them have moments that shine through all of the dreck. Elba in particular has a few scenes in which he fairly smolders and the intensity he imbues on his character shines around him, like a furious red aura.

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There is something of a twist that occurs 3/4 of the way through the film and while it is a bit novel, it doesn’t add any suspense to the film. It’s a twist befitting a film on the Lifetime Channel, rather than what’s supposed to be a big screen shocker. That being said, the audience I saw this with seemed pretty stunned by it (I just shrugged my shoulders). As a matter of fact, the audience I saw this with was really into the film – they were literally on their feet towards the end of it all, shouting at the screen. This is something I haven’t seen in decades, so I guess the film succeeds in that regard.

Good performances lift No Good Deed slightly above the usual “Stranger In The House” films you’ve seen in the past, but a terribly familiar script will leave most of you drifting off into dreamland. Unless you see it with as boisterous an audience as I did, then you’ll have no choice but to sit through it and recount the number of times you’ve seen it before, as it comes to its dreary conclusion.

No Good Deed – 1.75 shrouds.

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