Bad Samaritan (2018)

MAY 4, 2018

GENRE: THRILLER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

As the credits rolled on Bad Samaritan, one of the four other people in the theater - the only one who didn't bolt as soon as the credits began - turned to me and said "Well that wasn't very good, was it?" I agree with her, but even if I didn't, I'd be tickled by the encounter, as it's very rare that a stranger will offer their opinion to me in the middle of a theater (or anywhere, for that matter), but then again it's very rare you can see such a nothing movie like this on the big screen. How it escaped the VOD hell it deserved to get a 2,000 screen release is beyond me, but in a way it's kind of charming to see a movie with almost no stars, a bare minimum of action, and a generic plot playing in an auditorium adjacent to the newest Avengers (which I could occasionally hear through the walls, as daring me to switch theaters).

The plot is sort of combined from Marcus Dunstan's films The Neighbor and The Collector. Our protagonist goes into a house intending to rob it (Collector) and finds a woman chained up (Neighbor), because it turns out the owner (David Tennant) wasn't just some rich douchebag, but he's also a psycho. However he is unable to free her (she's chained up, the chains bolted to the floor) so he runs out and calls the cops, but unfortunately - as is often the case - the bad guy cleans up all of the evidence by the time the cops get there to investigate. That's not the worst idea for a movie by any means - it's always fun to see a criminal go up against a bigger criminal, torn between covering his own ass and doing the right thing - but director/producer Dean Devlin and screenwriter Brandon Boyce do that thing where they seemingly WANT to make every wrong choice possible over the course of their film, keeping it from ever being as thrilling or even as stupidly trashy as it could be. Instead, it's just a giant slog; it takes nearly an hour for Tennant to target our thieving "hero" (Robert Sheehan) and start making his life a mess, and then another 30 minutes for Sheehan to finally start fighting back.

But even if they arrived at this in half the time, it'd still be a misfire, since Tennant's got a weird escalation for his villainy. In a span of less than ten minutes he hacks into Sheehan's Facebook account and dumps his girlfriend via wall post ("It's over, bitch" - LOL), then gets his parents fired from their jobs (OK, not funny, but still rather benign), then... he appears out of nowhere, repeatedly slamming the girlfriend's head into a wall before throwing her over a railing and leaving her for dead. It's the most violent act we see in the film, against a character who was already kind of written out, so it's unjustified on a narrative level and just plain bad on a tonal one. His MO is to "break" people the way one breaks a horse (and yes, this is an actual line in the movie; one of two times I laughed out loud at how dumb something was), but when most of what he's doing is ruining other people's lives I'm not sure how it's supposed to break Sheehan - it just fires him up to get back at him, since he's not really doing much to him directly. Tennant busts up the kid's shitty old Volkswagen, but it never has any effect on his ability to get around - and later he inexplicably leaves his Maserati just sitting there for the kid to take anyway!

Tennant, by the way, is the only reason to watch the movie. The horse breaking stuff is ridiculous enough to amuse, and he seems to be enjoying playing a douchey psycho, screaming like Nic Cage in a few scenes and donning phony accents in others when he has to set Sheehan up for this or that go nowhere subplot. For example he poses as a neighbor to report a break-in when he knows Sheehan and his partner in thieving are going back into the house to try to rescue the girl (or at least find some proof that she was/is there), but they run away before being caught. Worse, when a detective stops by later, he sees the window they used to break in and treats it as if it's some unusual thing - and weirder still, Tennant lies and says he broke the window himself? Why? The cops were already there for the break-in, i.e. it's on the record, so why is he covering it up? And why didn't the detective put that together in the first place? I guess it doesn't matter, because despite being established as the doubting authority figure who will eventually become our hero's ally (and possibly killed), the detective just walks out of that scene and the movie as a whole, never mentioned again. Every single scene with him could have been deleted and it'd have no bearing on the plot.

It would improve the runtime, however. If this thing was like 80 minutes it MIGHT qualify as "silly dumb timekiller" material, but if you got two hours to kill you should be watching something legitimately good, or playing a game, reading a book, etc. The last 15 minutes or so are delightfully stupid at times, and there's a legitimately great line courtesy of Kerry Condon (the trapped girl), but it takes too damn long to get there, with almost nothing even remotely as amusing to tide us over until that point. Tennant blows up his own house for no discernible reason (Devlin must be trying to work Emmerich out of his system), but other than that there's no real action or anything, just a few scattered moments of out of nowhere violence. It's so hard to find payoffs too; Tennant puts a tracker on the kid's car, but only uses it once before just destroying the car anyway. We get a followup scene with a family they robbed prior to Tennant (they run a valet service at a restaurant; if someone lives close enough they take the car back to the person's home, access it, grab some stuff that won't be noticed right away, and return the car before the owners finish eating), suggesting that these people might keep coming back to haunt them in some way, but nah (I later learned the actress playing the mom in the family is Devlin's wife, so I guess he just wanted to give her another scene even if it had no purpose). It's almost like the editor worked backwards, taking what could have been an OK-ish movie and adding things back in until it was just a messy chore.

I'm also baffled that it's being pushed as a horror film (I went in fully expecting a thriller, for the record - its horror-free state had no bearing on my disliking of the film), as it even skirts over most of the thriller elements. Tennant is said to have done this before, and we see a corpse in a pit, but otherwise his more sadistic/serial killer-y actions are left not just offscreen but unused at all. We see a torture room of sorts in his garage, but it's never used and he even takes it all down before the cops show up, so it doesn't even function as a possible destination for one of our heroes. Condon's character has a few injuries but it's never shown how she got them - she's already been kidnapped when the film begins and we spend so much time on Sheehan and Tennant that she is left on the sidelines for large chunks of it, another thing the movie botches since the climax is about her rescue and yet I still wasn't entirely sure of her name. The R rating is pretty much just for language and an isolated shot of a breast; the few acts of on-screen violence are brief. Hell they don't even have any good cat and mouse stuff between the two leads - except for a brief scene where Tennant enters Sheehan's home while he's showering, the two are never in the same space until the final few minutes. There's rarely a reason to even get tense, let alone scared, and the marketing folks are doing no favors trying to sell it to the genre crowd.

They do get one thing right, however: use of technology. Sheehan scores a major victory at one point, getting a shot of Tennant in the act because his friend accidentally pressed the "video call" when fumbling with his phone on a regular call, which I myself have done several times. When he hacks into Facebook, it's actual Facebook, not some poorly mocked up variation, and Sheehan uses Photoshop to boost the contrast and invert the colors of a picture, letting him see an address on a checkbook (as opposed to the usual "enhance!" bullshit where someone gets a perfectly clear image of something that was probably like 10 pixels wide on the original). Tennant also has a "smart house", and while some of it is ludicrous (why would a table fan have bluetooth tech?), I can attest to how slow a Ring type device can be to show you a live image when you request it - the one I got after a few packages disappear often shows me a frame or two of the mailman walking away, too slow to record them actually walking up to my door and leaving the package. For some reason they didn't want to trust Google Maps, however - after Sheehan gets that address, and he's unsure of where the town is, he doesn't just click over on the very computer he's using to see where it is/how far a drive it will be - he moves over to the giant map of Oregon that his 14-ish brother has on his wall and finds it that way. Maybe that's why Devlin made so many alien movies - perhaps he is one, and is just unaware of how human beings actually act? It'd certainly explain the scene where an entire classroom seemingly has their notifications turned on for Sheehan's wall posts even though it's established he doesn't even go to the school.

Oh well. It's not the first time I've seen an interesting concept botched (hell, Boyce has been previously guilty of it - he wrote the thrill-free thriller Wicker Park), and I'm sure it won't be the last. Maybe someday someone will edit a third of the movie out and let it stand as an amusing diversion for Tennant's fans (I should note I never watched Doctor Who and the only thing I know him from is the Fright Night remake, which was even worse than this), but until then I wouldn't even recommend it as the VOD rental it should have been in the first place. In retrospect I should have moved seats to sit with that older lady; maybe we could have MST3k'd it and salvaged the two hours.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. David tennant is quite a well known star tbh

    ReplyDelete

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