"No Good Deed" Shouldn't Go Unpunished

Home invasion thriller “No Good Deed” sees a bony plot synopsis awkwardly massaged into feature length, its rubber band narrative stretched to its breaking point. And when it inevitably breaks, there’s still an hour left. Few films have left its cast out in the rain so regularly – both literally and figuratively – with leads Idris Elba (“Pacific Rim”) and Taraji P. Henson (“The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button”) practically catching colds in the process. It’s fitting, though, since “No Good Deed” is virulent in its awfulness, bound to infect all who come into contact with it. Symptoms: pangs of regret, frequent bouts of incredulity, crushing boredom.

Elba stars as Colin Evans, a convicted killer who’s just been denied parole, doomed to stew in prison for a further five years, at least. On the way back to the clink, he escapes his transport, dispatching of two cops in the process. Director Sam Miller and screenwriter Aimee Lagos (inadvertently?) frame their story as a potential tale of redemption, but that’s thrown out the window as soon as Evans chokes out his ex-fiancee for wanting nothing to do with him. Cut to various characters talking about an impending thunderstorm.

The frequent weather talk isn’t so much stilted metaphor – that would be giving the film too much credit – but filler, as the characters evidently have nothing else to talk about. Said storm causes Evans to crash his getaway car, leading him to stumble his way to the doorstep of Terri (Henson), wife and mother, whose husband is away on a golfing trip. The next half hour consists of small talk between Colin, Terri, and her best friend, Meg (Leslie Bibb, “Iron Man”), conversations that are uniformly nonstarters, none of which stir up a modicum of tension.

Miller cheats with his camera work, allowing Elba’s character to inexplicably disappear and reappear in the same scene, using hackneyed, overblown sound cues to highlight non events like shuffling papers. When Evans inevitably attacks Terri and Meg, we’re supposed to immediately snap to attention because it’s man-on-woman violence – a reasonable expectation – but Terri’s laughable decision-making undermines any would-be currents of female empowerment – as does Henson’s knowing, half-turned smirk.

While Elba endearingly puts on his best face from the starting line, Henson lets us know that she knows she’s in a terrible movie, barely trying to conceal her bemused indifference. But in facing down a villain with no plan, no discernible endgame, her frustration is understandable, her character little more than vehicle for padding the film’s already brief running time. As a mere delivery system for dialogue about nothing and for no one, Henson is as good as could be expected.

While the filmmakers mistake ugly violence for suspense, viewers won’t. If only “No Good Deed” were at all self-aware, it could serve as decent satire of the kind of low-rent 90s thrillers that littered the shelves at many a Blockbuster Video. But it’s too pointless to be even a guilty pleasure, plunging past “low rent” into “no rent” territory, dragging two competent performers down into the mud with it. Let’s hope that the cliche doesn’t hold true, because “No Good Deed” deserves all the punishment audiences and critics can dish out.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ out of ★★★★★ (Very Bad)

Release Date: September 12, 2014
Studio: Screen Gems (Sony)
Director: Sam Miller
Screenwriter: Aimee Lagos
Starring: Idris Elba, Taraji P. Henson, Leslie Bibb, Kate del Castillo, Henry Simmons
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence, menace, terror, and for language)