Overview: A psychopathic escaped convict (Idris Elba) terrorizes a woman (Taraji P. Henson) and her children. Screen Gems; 2014; Rated PG-13; 84 Minutes.
Surprisingly Unsurprising: No Good Deed was set up to fail by its studio. Earlier this week, critics received word that their screenings had been cancelled, supposedly because there was a “shocking twist,” and they didn’t want moviegoers to be spoiled. TV spots for the film also promised a surprise ending of the “you’ll never see it coming” variety. It’s not a new marketing technique, but since No Good Deed doesn’t actually have a twist ending, it’s misapplied here to say the least. I almost feel bad for No Good Deed. It’s not awful, but it’s being sold as something it’s not. The biggest twist it has is how lame its “twist” is. After the reveal, the movie does the thing where it flashes back to earlier scenes in the movie to reveal new information or show them in a new light, but the reveal is so empty that they only have two scenes to flash back to. It’s pathetic but in a pitiable way.
Location Location Location?: There’s some bizarrely incompetent filmmaking on display in No Good Deed. In early scenes, lens length appears to vary from shot-to-shot, so the depth of field of certain shots is completely different from the shots surrounding it. The geography of the house is rendered incomprehensible by the awful direction, which makes the scenes of Elba stalking around the house much less intense. If we don’t know where he is in relation to the other characters, it’s hard to know how to react to his movements.
Chasing Mice: It works in fits and starts. There are some moments with menace, and one scene where Elba’s character sexually harasses Henson’s character is genuinely unsettling. But it’s couched in interminable scenes of the two characters talking. They have the same conversation over and over, and since we know who Elba actually is, the tension wanes pretty quickly. A cat-and-mouse game can only be thrilling for so long. After a while, you wonder why the cat hasn’t pounced already.
Wrap-Up: No Good Deed lands with a thud, lacking narrative thrills and cinematic competency.