“No Good Deed”
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for violence and profanity
Running time: 84 minutes
Distributor: Screen Gems
It is usually a bad sign when a movie studio decides not to preview a picture for film critics. In the case of “No Good Deed,” Screen Gems claimed that it was refraining from doing so in order to prevent the spoiling of a surprising plot twist. Well, the butler did it! (Just kidding.)
Skeptical, I had to wait until opening day to see it. And while the movie is by no means a masterpiece, I’m happy to report that it’s nevertheless a tautly-wound nail-biter which keeps you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. And yes, there is a humdinger of a revelation during the denouement, not a totally preposterous development but rather a plausible one which was merely cleverly-concealed.
The movie marks the theatrical directorial debut of Sam Miller, who is best known for Luther, the brilliant BBC-TV series featuring Idris Elba in the title role for which he won a Golden Globe in 2012. The two collaborate again here, with Idris playing Colin Evans, a serial killer who, at the point of departure, slays a couple of prison guards during a daring escape from a Tennessee prison.
He makes his way to his girlfriend Alexis’ (Kate del Castillo) house in Atlanta only to murder her, too, when he learns she’s already involved with another man. Colin remains so blinded with rage as he drives away that he crashes his stolen car into a tree along a suburban country road.
He subsequently knocks on the door of Terri Granger (Taraji P. Henson), an attorney-turned-stay at home mom whose husband (Henry Simmons) has conveniently just left town with his father away for a weekend golf getaway. Against the former prosecutor’s better judgment, she lets the tall, dark and handsome stranger enter the house, and it isn’t long before there’s trouble in paradise.
After all as the proverb suggested by the title warns, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Accordingly, Terri and her two young kids find themselves in the clutches of a desperate maniac until the protective mother’s maternal and survival instincts kick into high gear.
No Good Deed was ostensibly inspired by “The Desperate Hours,” a suspiciously-similar Broadway play starring Paul Newman which was first adapted to the big screen in 1955 starring Humphrey Bogart, and remade in 1990 with Sir Anthony Hopkins. Thanks to Mr. Elba’s menacing intensity, a potentially mediocre variation on the theme ends up elevated into a tension-filled gutwrencher his loyal fans won’t want to miss.
The urban-oriented audience at the screening I attended talked back at the screen a lot in the way that engaged black folks do, and they even applauded heartily as the closing credits rolled, surefire signs that the studio has a hit on its hands, conventional critics notwithstanding.