Certain films may make you realise that we have a very peculiar cultural appetite.
The kind of stories that grip us collectively tend to revolve around what have commonly been thought of as the darker sides of human experience: while they may not be the most noble of themes, there is something of an obsession with film plots based around sex, violence and revenge.
No Good Deed is the kind of film that seems keenly aware of this cultural bias and is crafted precisely to scratch that itch – a fact that makes it simultaneously satisfying but also a little abhorrent.
We’re introduced to Idris Elba’s character Colin in the back of a police van, where he is manacled and under the watch of an armed escort on the way from prison for a parole hearing. Full of hope and promising potential, Colin’s chances are scuppered once a parole board member voices his serious concerns about Colin’s rehabilitation.
The scene echoes a feeling that resonates with the viewer throughout the film – we have seen Elba on superb form, especially in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, and despite a much more limited and linear role in this film he manages to maintain a strong presence on screen – to a large extent through his sheer physicality.
And it’s the physicality of things that provides many of the problems for No Good Deed – Colin is linked to a string of very savage assaults and murders against women and it becomes very quickly evident that there is no twist in that tale: he is a misogynist cold-blooded killer without a shred of remorse.
Elba is villainous and violent to such an extent that it makes the films tagline “first he gets into your house, then he gets into your head” seem unintentionally comical unless they meant it to be interpreted in the most literal sense – the film offers effective discomfort but little to no psychological depth.
Making a shift to a home invasion movie most of the action takes place at the house of Terry (Taraji P Henson), an affluent but lonely housewife who is planning on having a girls’ night in with her best friend while her husband is out of town.
When a handsome stranger calls at the door to use the phone, Terry just can’t stop herself from bringing him in and filling him full of wine.
If you are one of those people who facepalms at ridiculous and frustratingly bad decisions being made on screen, for the good of your forehead wear some soft gloves during this film.
A special award for exasperation must go to the scene where Terry reveals how her job involves profiling and prosecuting males who commit domestic violence.
Despite the bad writing, Henson gives a solid performance and there is the sense that with some characters that were not two-dimensional, there could have been something a lot more interesting going on.
Director Sam Miller’s background is in TV crime and that experience shows. Aside from an annoying habit of leaning too heavily on dramatic music to ratchet up the tension, the film looks and feels like a good thriller – there is a genuine sense of danger in the dark, rainy anonymity of suburbia – it is an experience that is effective but in no way original, eventually descending into that familiar realm of playing hide-and-seek with handcrafted household weaponry.
No Good Deed stands as a difficult film to rate as despite all it manages to do right ostensibly, it never manages to transcend an uncomfortable feeling of hollowness – at its best it can be meaningless entertainment.