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


No Good Deed

No Good Deed is a magnificent example of what I call an “Are You Serious?!” movie. These are films so preposterous that they make you want to yell Are you serious?! at the screen. While it's understandable that thrillers, in particular, want to find new and original ways to take audiences by surprise, there's a thin line between cleverness and outright stupidity. No Good Deed jumps right over that line, pulls its pants down, and figuratively moons the audience.

Idris Elba plays Colin Evans, an escaped convict/murderer who crashes his car during a violent storm. Needing shelter, he makes his way to the nearby home of Terri (Taraji P. Henson), a devoted wife and mother of two young children. While she enjoys domesticity, her husband (Henry Simmons) doesn't show her a lot of affection. In fact, he's a jerk who goes so far as to complain when she leaks milk all over his dress shirt shortly after breastfeeding their baby. Colin arrives just as the neglectful hubby has left town for a few days, meaning Terri and the kids are home alone. He puts on the charming act, saying that he needs to use her phone to call a tow truck. She lets the stranger in the house against her better judgment, because hey, he seems so nice.

This takes the better part of forty minutes. There is a suggestion that the intimacy-deprived Terri is physically attracted to Colin. He plays on this, while also flirting with her best friend Meg (Leslie Bibb). No Good Deed, in its first half, does a lot of tedious wheel-spinning, continually creating moments where it seems as though Colin is going to snap, only to have something reign him back in. (At one point, a tree branch conveniently smashes through a window just as he's making menacing gestures toward Meg.) Of course, he eventually does go bananas, leaving Terri to fight for her safety.

There is something deeply uncomfortable about No Good Deed. For a movie like this - one that deals with terrorizing women – to work, it has to revolve around the female lead. We must fear for her, root for her, and empathize with her. This movie, however, tells the story largely through the eyes of Colin. He's the main character and he obviously has severe narcissism and misogyny issues that are used as the hook in trying to create tension. Because of this, the “suspenseful” scenes tend to play as though the movie is putting him in more peril than Terri. Will he snap? Will Meg blow his cover to Terri? Will that cop figure out that Terri's being taken hostage?

Nowhere is this Colin-centeredness more squirm-inducing than a scene in which he forces Terri to disrobe in front of him. No Good Deed has put so much effort in trying to suggest sexual attraction between them that the moment feels like it's aiming less for Oh no, is he going to rape her? and more for Wouldn't it be kind of hot if they got it on right now? The movie is shooting for titillation here, which is as wrong-headed a choice as you can get. In fact, much of the film plays like a porno without the sex. Handsome, seductive stranger shows up at the house of gorgeous, lonely housewife. They flirt shamelessly. But instead of sex, the money shot is the chance to see him beat and abuse her. Tonally, it's very queasy, in addition to being of questionable entertainment value.

Then there's the ending, which introduces a twist that achieves new levels of contrivance. (“Are you serious?!”) Without giving anything specific away, the screenplay by Aimee Lagos abruptly starts playing by a new set of rules in the last five minutes. The only way for the twist to exist is for the movie to invalidate something that happened earlier. In other words, a detail that initially seems important is, in fact, utterly irrelevant, and here simply for the purpose of making us think things are one way when they are actually another. The finale leaves a viewer not knowing whether to laugh hysterically or throw popcorn bags at the screen in anger.

Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson are both terrific, charismatic actors, even when they're stuck in sheer dreck. And boy, is No Good Deed dreck. Monotonous, ponderous, and oddly excited about showing a muscular guy beating up multiple women, it is a career low point for all involved.

( 1/2 out of four)

No Good Deed is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, menace, terror, and for language. The running time is 1 hour and 24 minutes.

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