2018 | rated R | starring David Tennant, Robert Sheehan, Kerry Condon | directed by Dean Devlin | 1hr 50mins |
Studio Pitch: A group of criminals break into a home, learn the homeowner has a dark secret and tries to stop it.
In the 90s, Dean Devlin earned super-producer status after Stargate and Independence Day became monster hits. While Devlin co-wrote those films with director Roland Emmerich, his talents lied more in bringing big special effects projects in on time and under budget. As a writer he could pen a high concept but not back it up on execution and dialog. After 1998’s Godzilla, Devlin seemed to fall off the face of the Earth and Emmerich went on to make one world-crushing disaster movie after another – The Day After Tomorrow and 2012– that were so tone deaf and meanspirited I always wondered if the cheesy charm of those 90s films came from Devlin.
Now, out of nowhere here comes Devlin directing Bad Samaritan (his second film) and though he isn’t the screenwriter, this is also a high concept movie that suffers in execution and dialog. The clever concept is this: a duo of restaurant valet’s takes the cars of their rudest guests for a spin back to their homes where they rob the place, usually just taking pictures of credit cards and bank accounts without lifting anything, and returning the car without a trace. But quicker than you can say Don’t Breathe our starving artist photographer anti-hero Sean (Robert Sheehan) stumbles into his latest house and finds a girl (Kerry Condon) bound and chained up at the mercy of a vicious serial killer (David Tennant). He runs off in an act of cowardess and spends the rest of the film dodging Tennant to save her.
The marque draw here is the former Doctor Who himself. Its kind of fun watching Tennant going completely bonkers and chewing up the scenery. Devlin leans hard on shots of him staring sinisterly into darkness, cooley putting on sunglasses or spitting out insane monologues about “correcting” people. The story is full of holes requiring one leap after another after another to sustain itself. Tennant’s Cale Erendeich (huh?) has a childhood trauma obsession with horses that prompt insane flashbacks of a horse being whipped and inspire a production designer to scatter horsehead statues all over the movie. He is also a trust fund kid with a seemingly infinite amount of money and resources, bending and twisting time to remove entire rooms full built out with torture devices in the time it takes the cops to show up and look at them.
Bad Samaritan is a nearly wonderful mess. So close to so-bad-it’s-funny that a gust of wind could have blown it over into midnight screening camp territory. Cale is that kind of madman who looks so insane all of the time we can’t imagine that he functions in society, much less wine and dine clients and make business deals. Even at that, I started rooting for him over our hapless, stammering hero who screws things up and makes things worse at every opportunity. Tennant is fully dedicated to hamming it up to the cheap seats, which is exactly what this movie needs, and Kerry Condon comes off as the movie’s surprise MVP. At a few points Devlin even seems aware of how ridiculous it has gotten with Condon becoming the only real human looking appropriately baffled in a movie full of extreme cliches.
The deceptively interesting premise plays like a 3rd rate Don’t Breathe. Instead of a claustrophobic nail-biting chamber film Bad Samaritan tries to go bigger, sending Tennant off to a snow-bound cabin in the woods and turning the story into a forgettable psychopath-of-the-week Criminal Minds episode. The Unsub went from correcting horses, to correcting people! Once Devlin runs out of the original gimmick he starts stacking more gimmicks on top of that. It’s also full of fog for some reason. Every interior in the film – Sean’s apartment, Cale’s neighborhood, the college – is filled with smoke or fog or steam. Like Devlin rented a fog machine because he thought it would look eerie.
Almost, almost, weird enough to gather your friends around and have a good laugh with, Good Samartian is just well shot and well made enough to fall short of that. It’s too good for it’s own good, falling in that deathly middle ground of being dull and kind of embarrassing. It is – however – a good answer for anyone who thinks the horror movie cure-all solution is to just call the police at the first sign of danger. That’s the first thing Sean does here and he spends much of the film sitting in interrogation rooms and police stations. Real police work is waived off with the same dismissal as a crazy conspiracy theory and everyone stands around trading buzzword dialog like “probable cause” so that Bad Samaritan can seem like it has some grasp of real world police procedure. It’s as riveting as it sounds. Once the police get involved we have to cut back to them trying to keep up – and any time the movie steps away from Tennant it grinds to a dead halt.