The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"THE DISTURBING PORNOGRAPHIC TENDENCIES OF NO GOOD DEED"

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SPOILER ALERT: This piece reveals major plot details of No Good Deed. Do not read further if you don't want to know what happens.

No Good Deed is a deeply disturbing film, and not in the way its makers probably intended. On the surface, it seems like a fairly conventional, if not particularly well-executed, domestic thriller. Look a little closer, though, and you can see something troubling. I touched on it in my initial review, but it bears more exploration. No Good Deed is essentially a pornographic film without the sex. In its place is an almost fetishistic interest in showing women being brutalized.

Even those of us who do not watch pornography know the prototypical porn plot, so engrained in pop culture consciousness is it. The plot often involves a sexually-unsatisfied woman who finds a studly man on her doorstep. Maybe he's a plumber, maybe a pizza delivery guy, maybe a pool cleaner. He feels a sexual attraction to her, and she to him. They engage in loaded small talk, filled with innuendo. For some reason, one or the other of them is forced to shed their clothing. Then the dam breaks and they begin engaging in all manner of sexual activity. The money shot is...well, we all know what the money shot is.

No Good Deed is structured according to this formula. Taraji P. Henson plays Terri, a beautiful, sexually-frustrated wife who is ignored by her husband. When he goes out of town, an escaped convict named Colin (Idris Elba) shows up. A major storm has caused him to wreck his car, and he knocks on Terri's door ostensibly to use the telephone. (A criminal in lieu of a plumber or a pizza delivery guy.) We already know what she does not: that he has a history of violence toward women. Terri lets him use the phone while standing on the porch. Colin is handsome and charming, so she eventually succumbs and lets him wait inside until the tow truck arrives. He, of course, never really made the call.

The two begin talking, with Terri sharing some mildly intimate details with him. Colin is soaked from the storm. She gives him one of her husband's shirts. He makes a point of changing right in front of her. Terri visibly becomes a little hot and bothered as she notices his buff physique. He has turned her on. Her outer blouse soon comes off, leaving her in a thin spaghetti-strap shirt that reveals a lot of cleavage. The longer Colin is there, the more they subtly flirt. We can tell Terri is torn between wanting to throw herself at the stranger and knowing she should remain faithful to her husband, even though the marriage is unhappy.

Then Terri's best friend Meg (Leslie Bibb) shows up. She is also attractive, and unlike Terri, she's single. She's also fairly randy. Meg starts flirting with Colin, too. He flirts back. The subtext of the scene seems to be, Will they all have a threesome? Here you have two sexy women enjoying the attention of a sexy man. No Good Deed taunts us with the possibility that something titillating will happen.

It does not. Colin privately tells Meg that he and Terri are having an affair. She doesn't believe him and threatens to reveal this lie to Terri. Colin then beats her with a shovel, killing her. Right at the moment when the two are alone – when the possibility of sex seems imminent – the scene turns graphically violent instead. Colin doesn't screw Meg, he murders her. And seemingly gets off on it.

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He then turns his sights on Terri. She realizes what has happened, that this man is not the charming guy he presented himself as. This leads to the next, and most disturbing, scene in the film. After she squirts him with a fire extinguisher, Colin makes Terri stand in the shower with him as he washes off. They emerge from the shower, and he forces her to strip naked. Again, the pornographic impulses arise. Although cowering and nervous, Terri also looks a little turned on by this. Instead of going for an Oh no, is he going to rape her? vibe, the movie feels as though it's saying, Wouldn't it be kind of hot if these two got it on right now? It almost seems to invite our desire to see them have sex.

Of course, that doesn't happen. The payoff is that Colin savagely beats her, chases her through her own home, and threatens to kill her children if she doesn't get in a car with him. In other words, there's a lot of sexual build-up that is released not with intercourse, but with the brutalization of a woman - just as happened with Meg. No Good Deed does this twice. Actually, three times. Before arriving at Terri's, Colin finds his ex-fiancee, who was not faithful to him while he was in jail for five years. He wants her back. She's moved on to someone else. Since he can't have sex with her, he kills her.

Three times the movie builds up to sex, only to replace it with violence against women. It follows the exact same structure as many pornographic films, then swaps out fornication for mean-spirited aggression toward females. Bloodbaths substitute for orgasms. This is presented in a manner that virtually encourages the audience to become aroused by it.

No Good Deed ends with Colin driving Terri to the home of his ex. She escapes and locks herself in the bedroom, only to find the woman's dead body on the floor. Here's where the much-debated “shocking plot twist” comes in. The dead woman's cell phone rings. Terri picks it up. It is her husband, calling to arrange a tryst. You read that right. Terri's husband is the man Colin's ex-girlfriend was seeing before he murdered her. Colin's arrival on Terri's front porch was not accidental. He went there intentionally to get revenge. This obviously means that Colin's car accident was completely irrelevant to the plot, there only to make us think it's a coincidence that he went to Terri's home. The stupidity of this twist is mind-boggling.

The underlying message in No Good Deed is that women who want sex deserve to be beaten. Colin's ex has sex with someone else while he is imprisoned and is murdered. Meg initially sets her sights on Colin and is also murdered. Terri is sexually attracted to him, as well. She doesn't die, but she is definitely subjected to extreme physical and emotional violence throughout the film. In the end, she turns the tables on Colin, killing him in the process. The final scene finds her now single, living in a new home with her children and starting a new job she's excited about. Still, she never does find sexual satisfaction in the film. Has she been taught that she should not seek it?

It's no wonder Screen Gems canceled press screenings of No Good Deed at the last minute. In a week where the big news was the release of a video showing football player Ray Rice viciously beating his fiancee to the point of unconsciousness, the studio was opening a picture that treated the abuse of women with near-pornographic glee. Critics certainly would have called the film out for that. And we are.

No Good Deed looks like a typical thriller. It is really violence porn, where every climax is not an orgasm but rather the harming of a woman. Astonishingly, a woman, Aimee Lagos, wrote the script. Do I think the filmmakers intended all of this? Probably not. It's tough to imagine a mainstream movie purposefully espousing the idea that beating a woman is akin to sexual activity. But the subtext is there, clear as day. It's just one more reason why No Good Deed is one of the worst and most reprehensible films of the last few years.


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