REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER/For 21st Century Media
The lead actor in the crime thriller, “No Good Deed” is the stereotype of a physically imposing, misogynistic black male, who terrorizes and abuses women. It arrives at a singularly inopportune time, eerily evoking a current news story.
Colin Evans (Idris Elba, drug kingpin Stringer Bell on HBO’s “The Wire”) is the suspected of being a serial killer, who murdered five young women. He is sent to prison on unrelated charges of manslaughter after he is involved in a barroom brawl, in which his male opponent sustained fatal wounds. What is the take away message here? You can kill five defenseless women with impunity. However, if you are involved in mutual combat with a guy and he dies, you’re looking at hard time. That formulation certainly devalues the worth of women.
After five years of incarceration, Colin appears at a hearing before the Tennessee State Parole Board. He sounds sincere, when he claims that he has repented is now a changed man. However, one skeptical board member has researched Colin’s background and concluded that he is a “malignant narcissist” (shades of Jeffrey Dahmer, who is explicitly referenced). He is denied early release. As Colin is being transported back to prison, murders his two guards engineers an escape.
His first destination is the home of his erstwhile girlfriend, Alexis (Kate Del Castillo, from “Under the Same Moon”), in the suburbs of Atlanta. He strangles her, then sickeningly continues to beat her corpse with a lamp.
Engulfed in violent rain storm, Colin loses control of the stolen car he is driving. Colin swerves off the road and crashes into a tree. His head is gashed and bloodied.
Colin stumbles to the doorstep of a nearby home, where Terri Granger (Taraji P. Henson, Oscar nominated for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) lives. She’s a one-time district attorney. Terri has specialized in-what else?-prosecuting homicides involving domestic violence. She has abandoned her career to become a stay at home mom and raise a pre-school daughter and a newborn son. Her hypercritical and emotionally distant husband, Jeffrey (Henry Simmons), is about to depart on a golfing excursion, leaving her all alone with the kids.
Implausibly, when Colin arrives, Terri invites him into her home so that he can call a tow truck. This is notwithstanding Terri’s familiarity with the dark side of men, gleaned from her involvement with domestic murder cases. She is undaunted by the fact that she is exposing her two young children to a total stranger. In this denigrating depiction of women, all of them, even well-educated professionals, are a bunch of ninnies. Terri’s prudent judgment is trumped by the fact that Colin is ever so handsome.
Later, Terri’s attractive best friend and neighbor, Meg (Leslie Bibb), pops over. She and Colin adjourn to the garage, where they share a smoke together. Initially, Meg flirts with Colin. However, she makes a remark, which annoys Colin. His solution is to pick up a shovel and crack Meg over the head with it. Add another fatality to Colin’s burgeoning list of female victims. The rest of the film involves Terri’s efforts to extricate herself from the situation that she has ill-advisedly created.
“No Good Deed” was shot two years ago. When a film’s release is postponed this long, it is almost invariably a red flag. Usually, such a delay reflects that the studio lacks confidence in their product. Initially, Screen Gems scheduled “No Good Deed” for release on Oct. 18, 2013. It was subsequently moved back to Jan. 17, 2014, the onset of the weekend preceding Martin Luther King’s birthday commemoration. It got bumped again to April 25, 2014. Finally, it was bumped a third time to Sept. 12, 2014.
The bottom line is that “No Good Deed” is an intrinsically terrible film. I will not reveal the twist in its denouement. However, I will disclose that the screenplay by Aimée Lagos is farfetched and cliché-ridden. The direction by Sam Miller, who hasn’t helmed a feature film in fifteen years, fails to infuse “No Good Deed” with the slightest scintilla of style, atmosphere, or urgency. Elba and Henson, both of whom are solid actors, have their talents wasted here.
There is an old saying that cynics are wont to quote, “No good deed goes unpunished.” I’m going to risk punishment and warn readers that they should skip the film, “No Good Deed.”
* PG-13 (for sequences of violence, menace, terror, and for language) 84 minutes
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.