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“NO GOOD DEED” (Movie Review)

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Last week, at practically the last minute, Sony/Screen Gems cancelled press screenings of NO GOOD DEED, leaving critics to trek to theaters to see it. The ostensible reason was to protect the movie’s final-act surprise (which isn’t much), rather than the movie itself (which is even less).

Some have speculated that the distributor wanted to avoid the inevitable comparisons between NO GOOD DEED’s abuse-of-women scenario and the recent real-life ugliness involving footballer Ray Rice, and while the release timing is coincidental, the movie certainly invites discussion vis-à-vis domestic violence by establishing its heroine Terry (Taraji P. Henson) as a former district attorney who specialized in such cases, but has given it up to be a stay-at-home mom to a 4-year-old and an infant. If you wanted to read deep between the lines, you could interpret NO GOOD DEED as a story of punishment meted out against a woman who has abandoned the cause of helping her fellow females to devote her life to a husband and children—but it takes very little analytical thought to see it as a film in which Terry, for all her alleged experience dealing with violent men, makes one illogical move after another when directly confronted with one.

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That man is Colin Evans (Idris Elba), a suspect in the disappearances of five young women whom the authorities could only nail on a manslaughter charge stemming from a barroom fight. A newscaster voiceover in the opening minutes dutifully lays out the backstory of Colin’s case, and when he goes before a parole board, Aimee Lagos’ spell-it-all-out script has its chairman describe Colin as a “malignant narcissist,” explain exactly what such a personality type is and note that Jeffrey Dahmer was one too. One contrived escape setpiece later, Colin has dropped by the home of his ex-fiancée Alexis (Kate del Castillo) to violently settle affairs with her, and after he subsequently crashes his stolen car, he winds up on the doorstep of Terry, whose neglectful husband has taken off for a golfing trip with his father.

It’s a dark and stormy night when Colin turns up, asking Terry’s help to call a tow truck, which gives you an idea of how subtle NO GOOD DEED is in general. And yet, at the same time, Lagos and director Sam Miller seem timid about pushing their story where it seems set up to go. With Terry stuck at home sans hubby and the handsome, strapping Colin initially turning on the charm, you’d think a seduction might be in the offing, but nothing comes of that ironic possibility; instead, Paul Haslinger’s score incessantly thrums in the background, Miller drops in flashbacks of Colin’s previous violence and the sound, as Colin is experiencing it, gets all echoey, all to remind you of how sinister the guy is. It falls to Terry’s flirty friend Meg (Leslie Bibb), who pops by for an expected girls’ night in, to put the moves on Colin, and it’s abundantly clear early on where that situation is headed.

The only thing separating NO GOOD DEED from your typical Lifetime women-in-peril flick is the presence of Elba and Henson, two award-winning actors working way below their game—though the movie was shot over two years ago, before Elba did his Golden Globe-nominated turn in MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM. Elba brought Miller over from their much-acclaimed series LUTHER to helm the flick, but the director brings little distinction to a scenario that plods through a first half of generic suspense-building, before eventually getting to the equally standard-issue menace and PG-13-level brutality (plus queasy moments in which the kids are threatened). The tables ultimately turn, of course, but the attempts at getting a you-go-girl rise out of the audience are deflated as Terry does dumb things like—not once but twice—conking Colin over the head and then scurrying off before assuring he’s really dead/unconscious.

The brief 84-minute running time suggests that NO GOOD DEED might once have had more to offer on either the thematic or narrative level, but what’s left is a series of sometimes literally soggy and implausible thriller conventions. And that highly touted twist Sony was allegedly so anxious to preserve turns out to be a fizzle; take it out, and the movie could proceed to its ending almost exactly the same way.

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About the author
Michael Gingold

Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.

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