I have a few pet peeves when it comes to movies. No Good Deed isn’t a terrible movie, but it unfortunately manages to touch on a number of these personal annoyances of mine. But I know this is a review and I should remain largely objective in my assessment of the film, so I will explain why my personal gripes are due to the film’s average writing, uninspired directing, and unfortunate waste of talent.
No Good Deed is a thriller starring Taraji P. Henson as a stay-at-home mom and former prosecuting attorney who feels overwhelmed by family life and underappreciated by her husband. Terri’s husband Jefferey leaves for an overnight trip for his dad’s birthday leaving Terri alone with their two young children. Meanwhile, Colin Evans (Idris Elba) is a prisoner who has a history of violence against women. He has been denied parole and isn’t very happy about it, so on the way back to prison he decides to escape. Afterwards he pays a visit to his ex-fiance before wrecking his stolen car on a dark, rain-soaked road. He winds up at Terri’s door, asking to use her phone, and the plot moves on from there in a mostly predictable fashion.
So here is where my first pet peeve comes in. I understand that a certain amount of exposition is needed to give the backstory of characters, but it is annoying when we are just plainly told a character’s background as a matter of fact. Film is a visual medium. Show, don’t tell. At the very beginning of the movie there is a voice-over of a newscast explaining everything about Colin that you need to know in order to understand that he is a bad and dangerous man. All of this can easily be demonstrated through Colin’s actions and the way Idris Elba plays the character. And it is. From the parole hearing, to his escape, to his visit to his ex, we get everything we need. The newscast is pointless exposition, and even though it’s a personal preference that it shouldn’t be there, it points to the larger issue of questionable writing choices.
Though the newscast was unnecessary, there are plenty of instances where a little more explanation would have been nice. Without getting too much into the plot and spoilers, there are plenty of times where you just have to shrug your shoulders and accept what is going on even though there is seemingly no good reason for what’s happening. Some of these questions are intentionally left ambiguous and are explained before the end of the film, but others are left hanging. After everything is finished and the credits start to roll, the audience is left to ponder the whys and the hows. For example, after Colin arrives at Terri’s house, she lets him come inside out of the pouring rain. Her reasons for letting a strange man into her house are never explicitly stated, but they can easily be inferred thanks the acting skills of Taraji P. Henson. Colin’s motives are less clear, and when certain things are answered it just raises more, bigger questions.
In addition to the lack of clear motivation, there are just too many instances where luck and timing move the plot along when it appears that the writer, Aimee Lagos, is painting it into a corner. A well-timed lightning strikes or falling branch helps get characters out of compromising situations on more than one occasion. These, along with some much bigger, plot-defining contrivances, make the overall feel of the writing lazy. It seems as if the filmmakers were more concerned with continually moving the plot forward rather than worrying about making it reasonably believable.
Another pet peeve of mine is when characters flash back to something that just happened and the audience is forced to watch clips of something that occurred less than ten minutes ago. We just saw it. It’s still on our minds. It’s an unnecessary and annoying device that can easily be avoided through better directing choices. This happens early in No Good Deed, and it really doesn’t serve any purpose. Colin is thinking about something we just saw him do, and we see it again. The images flashed on screen don’t provide any new information and don’t make the current scene any more dramatic. If the director, Sam Miller, wanted to convince us that Colin is thinking about what he did, then let the actor act. Idris Elba is a good enough actor convey the idea that he is thinking about what he did.
The judicious use of flashbacks is another personal preference, but it exemplifies the just-good-enough approach to directing by Miller. There’s nothing exceptionally offensive about the direction, but there’s nothing spectacular about it either. Elba and Henson are both terrific actors and one would expect a thriller starring them would be very tense and dramatic. Unfortunately for them, the tension is mostly mild and never really builds to much of anything. Colin comes across as more bossy than menacing. The few times that I did feel myself start to get a little nervous about what was about to happen the tension was quickly, and unsatisfyingly, broken. Just like with Colin’s early flashback, if the director had allowed them to play the scenes a little differently the intensity could have been significantly improved.
And that leads me to my third pet peeve: not utilizing great actors properly. Henson and Elba both do the best they can with what they are given. The best moments from both of them come from the little things they do between the lines of dialogue and plot devices. They add a tiny bit of sub-text to the characters where there wasn’t any written. It’s a sly smile and brush of the hair from Henson. A too-long stare from Elba. But then thunder or a crying baby or a car alarm brings the moment to a halt and the audience is ushered hastily past. Nothing to see here.
As long as you go into this film not expecting much, you will get exactly what you expect. It’s an average thriller that won’t make your day, but it won’t ruin it either. Sure, pet peeves are one thing, and you may even be able to forgive the minor transgressions that I perceived. But mediocre writing and directing are another thing entirely. Overall, No Good Deed isn’t horrible, but it’s not great either.
5 – Average
Pet Peeves aside, I didn’t truly dislike No Good Deed to the point where I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. If you like either Henson or Elba then you should probably see this, just don’t expect their best work. Thriller fans may want to give it a shot too, just don’t go out of your way to make it to the theater or track it down when it comes out on home video. Just wait until an opportunity presents itself before you watch it.
Home Sweet Home
Home Sweet Home is a home invasion movie where a methodical serial killer terrorizes a young couple after they arrive home. There’s really not much more to say about the story, but it’s a pretty well done horror film. You can currently find this one on Netflix streaming.
Watch the Home Sweet Home trailer
Crawl is an Australian thriller about a hitman who tries to frame his employer for the crime. After performing the hit though, the hitman wrecks his car and ends up looking for help at the home of a young woman. Bad things happen and the young woman is forced to fight for her life. It has a setup similar to No Good Deed, but Crawl has more tension, twists, and violence.
Watch the Crawl trailer
Review Format: Theater
Availability: Theatrically Released September 12, 2014
Director: Sam Miller
Writer: Aimee Lagos
Featured Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Idris Elba, Leslie Bibb, Kate Del Castillo, Henry Simmons
Run Time: 84 minutes
Watch the trailer