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Bungled B&E

No Good Deed is punishing




NO GOOD DEED. The whole "killer inside the house" thing is long in the tooth. But for me it taps into a visceral fear — one of those childhood phobias founded on nightmares. So despite the contrived set-up, I expected to be a little scared by No Good Deed. Maybe I've finally outgrown the genre, but more likely the movie just isn't very good.

The problems start almost immediately, as we're introduced to Colin Evans (Idris Elba), the villain. As he's transported from prison to a parole hearing in shackles, a reporter at the scene reads off a long, expository paragraph detailing his misdeeds: convicted of voluntary manslaughter after beating a man to death in a bar fight and suspected — but never tried, due to lack of evidence — of abducting five young women who remain missing. This idea, that Evans is a rage-monster capable of killing someone with his hands, but also a calculating sicko, is effective. However, no further mention is made of the alleged abductions, so it only plays as clumsy exposition. Moving along, Evans is denied parole despite his impassioned speech about having been reformed and rehabilitated by prison. A member of the parole board makes equally emphatic remarks debunking these claims, countering that Evans is actually a malignant narcissist. I emphasize the phrase as the filmmakers do; that is, for no good reason. So on the way back to prison Evans summarily murders his guards and heads back to suburban Atlanta, where he kills his ex-fiancée. Then he crashes his stolen pickup in a rainstorm, finds himself on the doorstep of the nicely appointed home of Terri (Taraji P. Henson) and starts terrorizing her and her small children.

The plot builds as if somebody envisioned this as a much longer affair. Fortunately, a more sensible person cut it down to 84 minutes, which feels like about four hours. By the time Evans gets inside Terri's house, it's time to start wrapping things up, structure-wise. The climax and the resolution are so rushed you might blink and miss them.

Elba, who flew so close to the sun as Stringer Bell in The Wire, gives an effectively chilling performance in the lead, but there's too much missing. He can do a lot with looks, movement and intonation, but the character doesn't have enough behind him to come to life on screen. A remorseless killer is scary, sure, but we'd be better off never understanding his motivation at all than to be told he's just a jealous guy. Senseless violence can make sense if the story is handled properly, but here it has zero impact because it's patently unreal. Of course Evans won't hesitate to shoot a cop on the side of the road or hit a pretty blonde in the face with a shovel. He might do anything, because it's all manufactured, untethered to reality. Which would be fine if the movie were at all stylized or heightened, giving the impression of an intentional disconnect. Instead, No Good Deed feels slapdash and insufficiently thought out, all the more so for its incongruously strong lead performances. The title doesn't even make sense. PG13. 84m.

— John J. Bennett


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