Cinema Dispatch: Bad Samaritan

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Bad Samaritan and all the images you see in this review are owned by Electric Entertainment

Directed by Dean Devlin

Admitedly this took a bit longer than I was expecting, but I guess there’s no escape from the gaping maw of Hollywood whenever an actor gives a surprisingly unique and interesting performance.  Like Schwarzenegger, Christopher Lee, Samuel L Jackson, and many others, David Tennant is on his way to being typecast as a creepy mo-fo after his star turning performance as The Purple Man in Jessica Jones.  Yes he was already famous to a lot of us after he did Doctor Who, but I’m willing to bet that Jessica Jones put his face in front of more people than all three seasons he did of that show combined.  Now he’s cashing in on that new reputation with this latest thriller by… the guy who did Geostorm?  SERIOUSLY!?  Okay… well is this going to be a fun exploration of yet another off-kilter David Tennant role, or are you better off watching that awful animated Doctor Who special where he goes to Roswell?  Ugh… I still have nightmares about the character designs in that.  Anyway, LET’S FIND OUT!!

The movie follows Sean (Robert Sheehan) who’s a run of the mill THIEF WITH A HEART OF GOLDTM who runs a clever little scam with his buddie Derek (Carlito Olivero) where they work as valets but rob their customers’ homes while they’re eating if they live close enough.  The hauls may be pretty small as they only steal odds and ends, but it manages to keep them safe and out of crappy nine to five jobs.  Sean’s an ARTIST after all and can’t compromise his integrity by taking pictures for CORPORATIONS and getting PAID A SALARY to do it!  He’s got better plans; or at least he DID until he went into the wrong house.  While rich asshole Cale (David Tennant) is enjoying a nice meal, Sean breaks into his house and finds a veritable cavalcade of loot but also finds a woman named Katie (Kerry Condon) strapped to a chair and with bruises all over her body.  Not only that, but Cale seems to have cameras all over the house including one pointed directly at the girl so instead of trying to free her and risk getting caught, Sean just bolts and makes an anonymous tip to the cops.  What Sean doesn’t realize is that Cale is not just a murderer, but is also a CLEVER one and above all VERY rich, so it doesn’t take long for him to piece together who it is that’s onto him and start enacting revenge against the starving artist.  Honestly though, he doesn’t even need to bother because Sean is already beating himself up constantly over failing to save the girl and even tries to turn himself in to try and get the cops to listen, but to no avail.  So Sean’s distracted by his own sense of misery while Cale is making things worse by ruining his life and even ruining the lives of those around him.  Will Sean find a way to save Katie before Cale finally grows bored and stabs her in the face?  What else does Cale have up his sleeve to keep Sean occupied, and it could it lead to even MORE murder?  Who the heck thought that making David Tennant play The Master was a good idea!?

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See, this is what happens when he doesn’t have a companion to keep him in check!

At first I wasn’t really digging this movie which was really deflating considering I had to drive forty minutes to find a theater playing it, but the longer it went on the more it got into its story there was definitely something in it that made it stand out a bit and eventually a rather compelling sit.  There’s some interesting things going on under the hood here, and while it’s nothing GROUNDBREAKING, I like a lot of the ideas this film toys with and found some of its decisions to be rather inspired for the genre.  Now it does have a rather weak start which makes the damn thing drag interminably for the first half hour and there are some Thriller Movie Clichés that feel rather ancient and anachronistic at this point in time, but if you can get past those issues and focus on what’s KIND OF new here, I think there’s a decent enough film to be gleamed; even if you’re still probably better off rewatching Jessica Jones which seems to have been the ONLY reason they hired David Tennant which in and of itself is the only reason this movie made it to theaters.

 

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“Alright, David.  We have a few ideas for your character’s name, so let us know what you think.  The Blue Dude!  The Green Jerk!  Son of Cyan!  Secret Agent Orange!”

Now as I’ve said, the movie doesn’t give off a great first impression as it takes way too long for the movie to get going despite the fact that you know exactly where that’ll be within the first ten minutes.  The film has some rather lengthy scenes at the beginning to set up characters and motivations which would NORMALLY be a good thing, but they really not that interesting to watch play out; whether it’s the scene with Sean and his girlfriend which establishes his kind nature, the scene with his family that sets up his irresponsible attitude, or the MULTIPLE scenes of him shooting the shit with his friend Derek which establishes that he’s a thief.  It’s all just so BLAND due to no one giving particularly engaging performances, and unfortunately that extends to David Tennant as well.  Look, the guy is great and we all love to see him in stuff, but this movie feels like an unfortunate attempt at typecasting off of his role in Jessica Jones.  Not only is this a far less interesting role, but he’s also saddled with a very distracting American accent that only makes it harder to buy his character in those early scenes which is crucial to setting up his menace and threat level.  EVENTUALLY he comes into his own as a scary bastard with too many resources at his disposal, but this movie could have EASILY ended in like twenty minutes if our hero made one phone call.  That said, despite feeling so contrived, it’s a GOOD thing our hero doesn’t end this movie right away because it’s after he finds out David Tennant’s DARK SECRET and gives him a chance to put up his guard is when the movie gets so much better.

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See?  He’s got a life preserver on in case someone tries to drown him!  Always thinking three steps ahead!!

Once we get past that rough opening and the plot gets going in earnest, that’s when things start to get interesting.  Like I said, it may not be the most original film out there, but I’m hard pressed to think of another thriller that embraces modern technology this much and also tries this hard to engage with the criminal justice system.  A lot of horror movies and thrillers will hand wave inconvenient realities of modern life like cell phones or ongoing police investigations in order to keep the movie from ending too early.  Some dude threatens you repeatedly; well it’s not too hard to record that on your phone.  Find yourself getting attacked by a zombie man with a machete at a campground then you just call the police, or failing that an Uber.  It’s much easier to just have our characters in a place with no cellular reception or to send one dude in a cop car with no backup to stop a mass murder.  This film on the other hand tackles these aspects of everyday life head on and tries to weave its narrative around them which means the writing has to be THAT much more clever and thought out for this movie to make sense.  The cops are somewhat believable in this (at least more so than in other movies) as they actually do try to look into Sean’s claims and simply come up empty, and there’s even a line from David Tennant that kind of explains WHY he’s gonna get away with this despite the cops pretty much on his doorstep which is one of the more clever and darkly humorous moments in the movie.  It doesn’t QUITE make up for some of the more ludicrous moments here and there, but the effort is noted and very much appreciated.  I like the steps that David Tennant takes in order to protect himself from the prying eyes of the authorities; even if it is SOMEWHAT unbelievable that he can so effortlessly move all his murder crap out of his house.  I like that Sean is willing to go to jail to get this person the help they need, yet even with the evidence he has David Tennant still finds a way to worm out of it.  The use of cell phones is one of the more realistic I’ve seen in a film like this even if they completely ignore social media which would have been a rather helpful tool in this case.  Seriously, tweet that picture of the woman in chains and you’ll PROBABLY get the cops to take more than a cursory glance; especially if someone online recognizes her.  Still, it makes sense that the characters would take pictures, record things, and even hack into Facebook accounts as a back and forth battle of wits in a world where that technology is so ubiquitous.  Again, it falls short in a few places as the cops are a bit TOO skeptical about a potential kidnapping (and there are at least two frame jobs that feel incredibly implausible), but I guess you’ve gotta stick at least a FEW overused Thriller tropes in here somewhere to keep it consistent with the genre.

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“Is that him?  Oh good!  I’ve been standing here for like forty minutes.  It was starting to get weird.”

Speaking of which, if there’s one genuine downside rather than the small missteps we’ve discussed so far, it’s that it STILL feels like too much of a clichéd thriller even when it’s trying to be a bit different.  Maybe that’s not such a bad thing in theory as one of the better ways to differentiate yourself from your peers is to mix your new ideas into formulas people recognize (therefore highlighting the contrast between them), but the tropes they go with aren’t even done all that well in the first place.  Primarily, David Tennant is about as generic of a Psycho KillerTM as you can get in one of these, and he’s really underwritten on top of that.  If this was a Hannibal Lecter knockoff that at least took the time to examine his psychosis and give him a sense of originality, that’d be one thing.  Instead, he embodies about every cliché in the book about being a Movie Murderer, and they spend way too little time going into his backstory and what had driven him to being a killer in the first place!  If he was just a rich asshole who had nothing better to do than emulate Dexter, that would AT LEAST be something, but we don’t even get that much out of him.  Now that’s not to say that David Tennant doesn’t do his best with the material he’s given, but it really feels like the filmmakers were expecting him to just fill in all the gaps in the script due to how well he played The Purple Man, but that role wasn’t JUST his performance and this movie shows exactly how important everything around a character like that is to selling their menace and generating pathos.  Also, like with many thrillers, women are mostly on hand to be victimized which is more annoying than anything else.  Like with David Tennant’s character being written like the most stock movie archetype, his victim is similarly written the same way and only gets to do something interesting in the closing moments of the film.  It’s just tired at this point and it’d be nice if screenwriters could come up with more than SEXUALLY REPRESSED MONSTER WHO WANTS TO CONTROL WOMEN as the default for most of these movies.

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“It’s bad enough he’s gonna kill me.  Why’s he got to be so TACKY about it?”

I really don’t think this film is anything special, so it’s not worth running out to see as soon as possible; especially if you had to go out of your way to see it like I did.  It’s better suited for watching at home as a somewhat interesting oddity; like when they basically did the same thing with Malcolm McDowell in The Barber or John Cusack in The Frozen Ground.  That’ll at least give you time to rewatch BETTER David Tennant roles in the meantime because there’s certainly enough out there that you probably haven’t caught them all yet.  This one can easily be put on the back burner until then.  Take all the time you need!  It’s not going anywhere!

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