Silver Screen: No Good Deed *
Making a pun out of the title of a movie is the movie critic’s lamest retort. But when you make a movie as bad as No Good Deed, you can’t just put No Good right there on the poster. You’re just begging for cheap abuse.
No Good Deed opens with a meandering TV news report that doubles as a massive exposition dump in which the newscaster tells us the history of Colin Evans (The Wire’s Idris Elba), a clever but highly unstable killer suspected of murdering five young women near Atlanta. The law was only able to nail him for manslaughter stemming from an unrelated bar fight, which is why one of the state’s most notorious criminals is up for parole just five years later. Regardless of how the parole hearing turns out, Colin doesn’t plan to spend much more time in jail.
After ungracefully blurting out the villain’s entire backstory, the film shifts its focus to the hearing, where a member of the parole board offers a detailed psychological analysis of Colin and explains exactly what he’s going to do for the remainder of the film.
It’s funny that a movie this blunt and predictable feels the need to explain itself in such exhausting detail, when director Sam Miller, working from Aimee Lagos’s tin-eared script, telegraphs every move ahead of time. In fact, he doesn’t just telegraph it, he practically puts it up in lights on the Jumbotron and flashes it across the side of a dirigible that flies over the theater. Few movies this easy to follow fret so openly about losing the audience.
Once he’s loose, Colin pays an unpleasant visit to his ex-girlfriend (Kate del Castillo), then seems to get waylaid by a crash while driving a stolen car in the rain. He walks to a nearby residence where neglected housewife Terri (Taraji P. Henson) is preparing for a night alone with her two young children. She’s wary of the stranger but he charms his way inside, hence the movie not being titled Prudently Cautious Lady.
No Good Deed’s brief window of suspense comes in the gap between Colin’s incursion into the house and his inevitable freakout. Miller lingers nicely in the moment and leans on Elba’s significant screen presence to portend doom, which at least suggests the possibility of a better movie to come, although it never arrives.
Miller clumsily tries to give the film a psychosexual undertone, but the result doesn’t so much find a seductive side to Elba’s psychopathic bad boy as it does suggest an icky subtext that both Terri and her bawdy best pal (Leslie Bibb) are partly at fault for inviting the danger on themselves.
Terri is at turns presented as naïve, overly cautious, streetwise, clueless, oversexed, and resourceful. She’s a doormat for her distracted husband, who wears a pastel-yellow shirt tucked into his khakis, which makes her all the more vulnerable to Elba’s sexual charisma. She reveals that she’s a lawyer who specializes in domestic-violence cases yet absolutely fails to spot a single warning sign of the predator before her. Henson can’t get a grasp on the wildly inconsistent character, nor can she manage to breathe life into Lagos’s stilted, banal dialogue.
Elba is the movie’s lone resource. Even if he doesn’t exactly persevere, he shows he could do a great job with this kind of character under even slightly better circumstances. His stoic intensity and tightly controlled physicality convey a coolness that never entirely obscures his imposing physique. No Good Deed posits Colin as a blue-collar Hannibal Lecter, and it has the right man for the job, but the movie is too plodding and simplistic to ever convey the evil complexity it wishes he had.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.