2014 - 84 minutes
Directed by: Sam Miller
Written by: Aimée Lagos
Starring: Idris Elba, Taraji P. Henson, Henry Simmons, Leslie Bibb
Those who avoid No Good Deed will go unpunished; the rest of us aren’t so lucky. The thriller is completely devoid of thrills, casually tossing in abhorrent violence against women and child endangerment to force a response. Minus the punches of unpleasantness, director Sam Miller and screenwriter Aimee Lagos offer nothing but Thriller 101 tropes executed in the blandest of ways, coupled with mind-numbing banter between the bad guy predator and good woman victim.
The bad guy is Colin (Idris Elba). He’s locked up for manslaughter, though he’s connected to several other acts of brutality that lacked the evidence to convict. Enraged after being denied parole, Colin murders the officers transferring him back to prison and makes off in a stolen car. After targeting someone from his past and violently confronting them, Colin crashes his vehicle and winds up on the doorstep of Terri (Taraji P. Henson). She’s a mother of two and neglected wife whose husband (Henry Simmons) has left on a weekend trip. Terri welcomes the rugged Colin into her home to use the phone. Instead of immediately attacking, the killer engages the desperate housewife in quiet flirtations that are reciprocated. After a long series of tension-less events (mostly talking and staring), Terri is running, screaming, and attempting to protect her children.
Elba and Henson are both exceptional actors and to their credit give actual effort here, but there’s no elevating this drivel. They aren’t given a chance to bubble anxieties to the surface. Henson is used as an expositional mouthpiece; Elba stoically listens and grunts agreements. I understand Terri feels abandoned and neglected by her mate, but she seems a little cavalier in her dealings with this stranger, filling him in on every detail of her life. It’s wholly for the audience’s benefit so we know she was once a brilliant lawyer who gave up her job and has several laments. Perhaps most interestingly, she tells Colin/us she was a DA who “specialized in violence against women.” Oh, the clever irony.
When there’s nothing left for Terri to tell us, her sexy neighbor Meg (Leslie Bibb) stops by for a night of wine drinking and gossiping. Hoping for a girl’s night, she has no reservations regarding the stranger whose tow truck is already an hour or so late. When Meg finally becomes justifiably leery, she doesn’t hunker down with her bestie; she angrily confronts the hulking Colin when they’re alone. That’s probably not going to end well for her.
After an hour of idle talk, we get to the frivolous action that involves some grabbing, smacking, and stabbing. Colin exhibits demeaning behavior that is uncomfortable as a filmmaking choice, but it’s not handled in particularly skin-crawling fashion. These are just blunt reminders of his predatory nature. What could be a tense scene involving a police stop turns into more chatter with an abrupt, predicable end to the conversation. Miller treats this garbage as if it’s the height of serious drama, making it all the more ridiculous.
Also ridiculous is a third act twist that gives Colin a silly motivation for his actions. This is supposed to make us recoil and gasp, but it only makes us shrug and chuckle. After nearly 90 minutes of boring gloominess now you’re trying to shock us? To the bitter, faux empowering end, No Good Deed fails to find any fear in a frightening situation.