It’s easy for bean-counters to ruin good ideas of movies, and it looks like that’s what happened with No Good Deed, but the good idea shines through brightly.
In the film, neglected housewife Terri Granger (Taraji P. Henson) is home alone for the night again with her two children when Colin Evans (the incomparable Idris Elba) comes calling. Evans is a particularly charismatic homicidal maniac stuck in the rain in need of a phone call, and Granger does her good deed by letting him in. After half an hour of sinisterly being a quiet, polite house guest, Evans begins to terrorize Granger and her children.
The movie’s light marketing effort has mostly been aimed toward its closing plot twist, and it is a very nice closing twist as long as the viewer understands what it means for the meta-story and is willing to forgive the poor premise execution for the film’s first hour.
Evans functions as an odd sort of salvation for Granger. Not only is he rescuing her from loneliness and boredom, but he literally saves her from an unhappy marriage and a deadbeat husband (Henry Simmonds).
But the viewer has to wait the full 84 minutes to realize that’s what’s going on. The film starts with a long, detailed, boring and detrimental look at Evans’ prison history to establish him as a scary character. They think he killed five women and he definitely killed this one guy when he was drunk and they could convict him of manslaughter for that, and he’s at his appeal for parole and then the guy says he’s a malignant narcissist just like Jeffery Dahmer* and then he doesn’t make his parole and then he kills his guards – it’s long, it’s boring, it’s entirely unnecessary. Elba is one of the most talented actors in the world. He doesn’t need a backstory to be menacing. From the main character’s perspective, Evans is a force of nature who comes out of nowhere to turn her life upside down – let that be the audience’s perspective as well.
Then, after a whole other song and dance to set up Granger’s character and Evans getting invited inside, he spends 30-45 minutes being a polite party guest with Granger and that one chick Iron Man nailed (Leslie Bibb).
No Good Deed shares a star and producer with 2009’s Obsessed, and it shows. It carries that film’s same canned, weak dialogue and reluctance to get down to the nitty-gritty.
In No Good Deed’s trailer, Evans is – BAM – immediately on Granger’s doorstep and – BAM – immediately after he’s in her child’s room with a gun exposed.
In the movie, this takes an hour. There’s a definite sense of condescension, particularly in the part that’s pipe-laying for Evans. All of the information comes the least imaginative possible way — expository dialogue via news report. And the reporter is talking at about half the speed any self-respecting television reporter would talk. The parole board also talks very slowly. It’s as if they honestly don’t think the audience will be able to understand he’s a bad man.
Everything gets better after that. The dialogue becomes sensible, the tension is actually tense and not just scary music overlaid on top of Evans’ clinic of house guest etiquette. Elba and Henson are magnetic leads even before the movie really gets started, and they go from sexual to murderous tension with ease.
It’s a clever film, you just wish it weren’t so poorly made.
Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and news editor for the NT Daily. 9/11 was 13 years ago and it’s time for this country to move on. For questions, rebuttals and further guidance about cinema, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At this point, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t actually go to movies and form your own opinions. That’s what I’m here for.
*Dahmer was eventually diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which is a fancy way of saying he had impulse problems. He was tried as legally sane. Malignant narcissism is a perfect storm disorder, a combination of narcissism and sociopathy that isn’t actually diagnosed by the American Psychiatric Association because any real psychologist is able to differentiate the two. It is exactly the sort of term a Kentucky hick who wants to sound smart would use to describe an alleged serial killer, but does the film have to use the term in so much promotional material? Could he just be called a sociopath?