To begin with, let me say that I applaud the goals of No Good Deed. Our screens are filled with fictional psychos, and more often than not their victims are women who, by demand of the screenplay, are too passive, weak or frightened to fight back against their attacker. This is meant to empower the bad guy, and make us in the audience hate him all the more as we await the hero, usually male, to arrive with gun drawn to save the day. On the surface, No Good Deed wants to lampshade the damsel in distress motif and say that damsels can save themselves. Sadly though, even the most wily and proactive of damsels can’t escape atrocious scripting and pacing.
Now, Idris Elba is a man of such towering gravitas that when he says we’re cancelling the apocalypse, you believe it. He’s also no stranger to playing morally dubious characters, and with his natural intensity and charm, there was really no heavy-lifting involved in his portrayal of Colin Evans, a convict on his way to a parole hearing when the movie begins. A media package at the beginning of the film tells us that he was nabbed for killing a guy in a bar room brawl, but he was suspected of killing five women before that. One of the members of the parole board calls Colin a “malignant narcissist,” with all the authority of someone that binge watched Criminal Minds over the weekend, so Colin doesn’t get parole today. At least not legally.
Like a good fugitive, Colin decides to pay a visit to his ex-girlfriend, the one he got into the brawl over. She’s apparently moved and severed all communication with Colin since he went to jail, and apparently no one in law enforcement thought to warn her that her psycho ex was on the loose. As Colin is driving through a slice of suburbia, he goes off the road and crashes his stolen SUV. Enter Terri, played by Taraji P. Henson, a stay at home mom with two small children, whose house, according to Colin, was the only one with the lights on on the whole street. Yeah, right.
If you know where this is going – Congratulations! – you passed Screenwriting 101. Sadly, this is also the most intolerable part of the film, waiting for it to dawn on Terri that the handsome stranger who had a car accident is a psycho killer who’s targeted her for some reason. And by the way, the reason is pretty easy to figure out even if you, like me, had only seen a few fleeting TV commercials for the movie before the curtain went up. Supposedly, Colin’s motivation in calling on Terri is meant to be the film’s big twist, and while I won’t blatantly spoil it, I will add that it’s barely worth keeping a secret.
Lack of communication though is a big theme in this movie, and no, I’m not referring to the marital chill between Terri and her husband Jeffery (played by Henry Simmons), or the initial ruse Colin uses to gain Terri’s trust. I can believe an intelligent woman might let her guard down in the company of a man who looks like Idris Elba, but there were no news reports that a fugitive suspected of being a serial killer was on the loose? No police with wanted posters about? Are the two prison guards Colin killed to escape custody still lying dead in their van while Colin is terrorizing Terri? Is no one at Colin’s prison saying, “Hey, shouldn’t that prisoner of ours have been returned from his parole hearing by now?”
The logical lapses compound the demerits of what is already a fairly paint by numbers script. An escaped prisoner’s on the loose, and naturally a big storm is forecast on the night that he’s been set onto an unsuspecting public. Colin gives Terri and her friend Meg (played by Leslie Bibb) a fake address – and surprise! – Meg’s a realtor who knows the people on that street well, but doesn’t recognize Colin. But it’s all good, let’s have some more wine as Terri changes, thus giving Colin plenty of time to get rid of Meg, cut the phone lines, hide all the kitchen knives and stock silently down the hall to catch Terri by surprise.
The set-up for the real movie, the battle of wits between Colin and Terri, seems to take forever. When it does get going though, the film lets Terri take every chance to get the jump on Colin believably. Watching Henson work here is great, because Terri is allowed to be as smart and resourceful as we were led to think from the beginning, but how a woman that worked in the DA’s office prosecuting men who abused women doesn’t recognize one sitting in her kitchen strains credulity.
As Terri brings the fight, Colin develops even greater reserves of Michael Myers-like vitality. All that’s missing is Donald Pleasence coming in at the end to confirm that Colin was, indeed, the boogeyman. By the time that No Good Deed decides to act out this Lifetime Movie of the Week remake of Halloween, only one thing is certain, and that’s that Elba and Henson and both too good for this. Even though both actors share an executive producer credit, this seems more like a project that could have settled for the talents of Ian Ziering and Tara Reid and still gotten the same bang for its buck.
On the other hand, using actors of the charm and quality of Elba and Henson make the goofier bits of No Good Deed easier to sit through, and at a brisk 84 minutes, it’s not like you have to sit there very long anyways.
As I said, the goal of the film and the filmmakers is commendable, and there were a few moments where I was pulling for Terri and wanted to see karma served on Colin. On the face of that simple goal, No Good Deed succeeds, but in trying to turn the genre on its head, or surprise with sudden unsuspecting twists, the audience is the one that gets punished.
Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson are great actors, but No Good Deed is silly and cliché-riddled in spite of itself from beginning till end.