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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

November 24, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: ‘No Good Deed’ hampered by dubious narrative

'No Good Deed'

Directed by Sam Miller

It is a dark and stormy night. A woman, Terri (Taraji P. Henson), is preparing dinner for her younger daughter when she hears the doorbell ring. She opens the door to find a man named Colin (Idris Elba) standing outside in the rain. He is injured and tells her that his car broke down. He says he’d like to borrow a phone to call for a tow truck, and that he’ll gladly wait outside to make the call, and she can lock her door. He eventually finishes up and starts to walk back to his vehicle when she invites him inside to get out of the rain. Little does she know that the man she has invited in has a dark past just waiting to emerge.

Unfortunately, this is only the beginning of this hodge-podge of cliches known as “No Good Deed,” a crime thriller about a woman and her two children terrorized by a mysterious stranger. The film offers almost nothing original to the genre and relies on the same tired plot lines and ideas that audiences have seen time and time again, and ultimately, the film has too much going against it to even attempt to engage its audience with any sort of thrills or chills.

The biggest problem of this movie is that it wastes the talents of its two main co-stars. Elba and Henson are both competent performers who have done a lot of excellent work in past roles, but even they can’t shine through the nonsensical dialogue and lackluster narrative, such as when she lets him into her home without asking any questions and not even confirming that his alibi is legitimate. However, they both have their moments, with Elba delivering some wonderfully menacing subtlety as the narcissistic and sadistic Colin, while Henson does a solid job at translating the horror of the situation to the audience, but there are too many negatives drowning out the positives. The most common issue with both of them is that both of their characters are so crudely written conceived that many of their later interactions come off as either ridiculous or uncomfortable, with a prime example being every time they try to fight each other. These scenes of conflict come across as cartoonish, emphasizing the unimpressive aspects of both the direction and narrative, ultimately leaving the audience wondering whether the characters will resort to more comic methods of assault, such as dropping pianos on each other.

In addition to the disappointing performances and shoddy writing and directing, practically all of the technical aspects behind the scenes are poorly done as well. The editing is very choppy, including some baffling moments where the film slows down in an attempt to be artistic, but ends up just looking unfinished. The audio of the film fades in and out when Elba’s character goes into his subconscious, which is mostly unnecessary and doesn’t add much to the plot. The only aspect that is somewhat interesting is the cinematography, as the film is sometimes well-framed and absorbing. Even that goes from competent to complacent more often than not and is never fully consistent.

There are a few redeeming moments within the film that save it from being a complete waste of time. Once in a while there are some excellent moments of discomfort, especially during the first few moments of Elba’s character reveal and Henson’s reaction to this news, that create a palpable tension shared among the entire audience. There is also a clever twist toward the end that manages to invoke an extended sense of suspense, but this, too, is quickly ruined by the comical climax of the film.

Overall, “No Good Deed” is a bland and forgetful jumble of cliches and uninteresting characters that gives the audience nothing in return for its investment. It creates comedy where there should be drama and only offers brief glimpses of the involving and psychological thriller that it so desperately attempts to create.