Director: Bob Rafelson
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Milla Jovovich, Stellan Skarsgard, Doug Hutchinson
Plot: A cop (Jackson) working a missing persons case stumbles across a gang of criminals about to undertake a bank heist, who thinks he has purposefully found them out.
There is always something a little strange about your non-blockbuster action movie from back in 2002. Independent film-makers have it a lot easier now, because technology makes a lot of the tools we need accessible. For example, while the animation in Sharknado is disgraceful, at least they actually have animation. This is the factor which kind of kills No Good Deed. While there are a handful of good ideas to be explored here, there is always a sense that director Rafelson doesn’t quite have the material or know-how to exploit what he wants to do. The ‘bank robbery meets cat-and-mouse’ script is confined to one house, as Samuel L. Jackson’s cop is kidnapped and bound to a chair. There is supposed to be this sense of fast tension, as the villains begin double-crossing one another and the twists and turns start flooding in. However, the direction doesn’t convey this, as it is never much more than the various actors pacing around a room, looking grim. Even the ending, which suitably takes the action outside of this set-piece, isn’t much more than a mildly thrilling back-and-forth in a slow-moving vehicle. Despite a clever ‘ah, I like what he did there’ moment with a bunch of number-plates, the sequence is a little dull and a poor pay-off to the movie. It is a little sad, because sometimes this isn’t anyone’s fault, but a lack of money, technology and progression in the movie industry.
Mind you, there are quite a few times when the movie is just crap. I can’t decide if this is a clever thriller or a brain-dead one. While at times, it boasts some clever pieces of writing, there are other moments that are so laughably under-developed that it is shocking. Milla Jovovich’s character is a bit of a mess. I love the concept of her. She is a femme fatale, the villain’s girlfriend that he uses to seduce various characters in the story. At the same time, she has several side alliances on the go, using Samuel L. Jackson’s cop and the other bad guys as a potential back-up plan to get away from her malicious lover. There is some fun to be had, wondering if she is a good person or simply hedging her bets by opening herself up to the hero of the story. You cannot help but wonder which character she is going to leave with at the end of the movie. However, at the same time, she jumps from ditzy to cunning to wrapped up in her emotions all the time. No one is quite sure what kind of femme fatale they want Jovovich to be. When the obligatory love story crops up between her and the hero, it is pretty laughable as its very addition suggests a total lack of intelligence from the character. There is a cringe-worthy scene where she gets wrapped up in the idea of playing music with the hero, who turns out to be a brilliant cello player. As she unties her hostage and then attempts to play the piano, while training a gun on him, it does illicit the odd chuckle. Then, when seconds later, the two of them are all over each other (apparently playing the cello is just as good as sex, if the direction and Jovovich’s acting are anything to go by). It doesn’t work and puts a dampener on a thriller that is very almost quite good. Other little details fail as well, like a dependence on extreme close-ups, corny dialogue and sometimes a lack of flair with the direction. No Good Deed is trapped with this sense of pointlessness, because sometimes it is being told in a half-hearted fashion.
There are some good things in store for anyone who does give this movie a shot. The story is clever in its own way. As Jovovich plays the baddies against each other, there is a back-stabbing subplot between the villains as their bank heist gets underway. In fact, Samuel L. Jackson, who spends most of the movie tied up as a hostage, almost plays second fiddle to their story. Most of the second act is spent on the bank heist and the slow loss of control afterwards, rather than a valiant escape on Jackson’s part. This does give the characters a little boost, pushing them as more than cardboard cut-out antagonists. The other thing I liked here was just some of the acting. This movie might be cheap and a tad lifeless, but the three leads are quite big actors. Stellan Skarsgard is always fun to watch, somehow making the dialogue less painful. There is always something deeper and more malicious ticking under his character, waiting to explode. Milla Jovovich is a slave to what the scene is asking her to do, but in moments, she boasts the performance she is capable of doing. But most of all, it is quite nice seeing some early Samuel L. Jackson. These days, every role the actor takes on asks him to be as much like Samuel L. Jackson as possible. His dialogue is always over-the-top and he rarely does anything new. Here, he is quite understated and reserved, his character more brooding than we are used to from the actor. It is a great change of pace and is a nice reminder than the man can actually act up there with the best of them, even if he doesn’t get to show it these days.
Final Verdict: Sure, the story is trapped by its limited resources, but poor direction doesn’t help either. Very skippable.