Directed by: Sam Miller
Premise: An escaped convict (Idris Elba) terrorizes a mother (Taraji P. Henson) who is home alone with her children.
What Works: No Good Deed has a very small cast with two very good actors at its core: Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson. Elba is a very charismatic screen presence and he plays a manipulative character pretty well. Despite the typical Hollywood affluence of her character, Henson conveys reality and vulnerability as a woman and a mother but at the same time she is no shrinking violet and is a believable and empathetic character. Henson and Elba have an appropriate sexual tension and this film is about two people trying to figure each other out with Henson’s character gradually coming to the realization that this man is a threat to her and her family. No Good Deed is at its best when the filmmakers give themselves over to the cat and mouse play between these two characters.
What Doesn’t: No Good Deed has a potentially interesting premise. The movie is similar to pictures like He Knows You’re Alone and When a Stranger Calls but the filmmakers put a slightly different spin on the concept. These other movies adapted the urban myth of an unseen killer terrorizing a woman with obscene phone calls that are actually coming from inside the house. No Good Deed is basically the same story but in this case the attacker does not initially seem so threatening and he smooth talks his way into the house. There is the possibility of a very good movie here and that makes the failure of No Good Deed so frustrating. The movie gets off to a bad start, opening with a parole hearing for Elba’s character. According to some awkwardly staged exposition, the prisoner was convicted of manslaughter for killing another man in a bar fight but he is also suspected, but was never convicted, in the deaths of several women. The board denies parole to Elba’s character not on the basis of his conviction or prison behavior but on the suspicion that he was guilty of these other crimes. This makes no sense and it’s indicative of the stupid storytelling decisions that plague the movie. After the parole hearing, Elba’s character escapes by killing two prison guards and reunites with his former girlfriend who he strangles to death when he discovers she is seeing someone else. After crashing his car he ends up at the home of Taraji P. Henson’s character and he gets in the door by appealing to her charity. This is where the movie ought to have started and the material leading up to this point spoils the rest of the movie. We know Elba’s character is violent and psychotic and so there is little tension or ambiguity. The cat and mouse game between Elba and Henson’s character has a lot of potential with the two of them sharing some sexual tension but virtually every time the actors achieve some momentum it is destroyed by stupid storytelling and filmmaking decisions; moments that could lead to discovery or character development are cut short by contrived interruptions and other concidences. The bulk of No Good Deed takes place inside a house, giving it an intimate scale, but the filmmakers are unable to come up with interesting ways to stage and photograph the action. The sound on this movie is especially bad. The music score is obtuse and intrusive and the filmmakers employ a distorted sound effect that is supposed to convey the madness of Elba’s character but it’s more annoying than frightening. In the end, No Good Deed becomes the kind of woman in danger scenario featured in a million slasher movies (the ending owes a lot to 1978’s Halloween) and this has all been seen before and and done better.
Bottom Line: No Good Deed wastes a pair of talented actors on a lazy script executed with sloppy filmmaking. This is a movie that alternately offers clichés and contrivances and very little of it is exciting, believable, or competently made.
Episode: #509 (September 21, 2014)