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Saturday, May 05, 2018

Bad Samaritan

Filmmaker Dean Devlin is most famous for having a hand in big budget spectacles like Independence Day, 1998's Godzilla, and last year's Geostorm.  But with Bad Samaritan, he tries his hand with a smaller budget, and tells a thriller story that's one part Hitchcock, one part Saw, and almost completely nuts.  It's a ludicrous thriller that happens to work if you're in the right frame of mind.  The film is shot very well, and it does have a few suspenseful moments.  It's not a great or exactly a smart movie, but then it's not pretending to be.

Despite a more stripped down budget than he's used to, Devlin seems to relish telling the story here of a small-time con artist who finds himself in over his head when he accidentally steps into the world of a madman serial killer and torturer.  The movie is loose, fun a lot of the time, and is filled with actors who know what kind of movie they're in, and go full tilt.  This is especially true of former Doctor Who star, David Tennant, who plays the serial killer with the kind of insane gusto that gives new meaning to the expression "chewing the scenery".  He's completely unhinged up on the screen, and he doesn't apologize for a second.  As the small-time con artist who serves as the titular "bad Samaritan", we have up and coming Irish actor, Robert Sheehan, who is likable as a kid who has made some bad choices in life, but at least knows right from wrong.

Sheehan plays Sean, a budding photographic artist who takes a job as a valet at a fancy restaurant in order to make money on the side.  Not wanting to live off just on tips, he and his friend at work Derek (Carlito Olivero) run a pretty simple scheme.  They take your keys, but instead of parking your car while you go inside to eat, they use your car's GPS to find out where you live, swiftly take any small valuables that they think you won't notice are gone right away, and then bring the car back by the time you finish dessert.  Sean and Derek do have a sort of ethics code.  They only go after rude, wealthy people who will probably stiff them on the tip anyway.  The movie's not exactly making these guys out to be heroes, but it does have a lot of fun in showing their criminal exploits, and it even leads to some moments of humor. (There's an almost slapstick-inspired sequence when Derek comes across a dog while he's robbing a victim's house.)

One night, the wonderfully-named Cale Erendreich (Tennant) pulls up in his Maserati, and immediately strikes a tone of a self-important wealthy jerk who thinks that himself and his various shady business dealings are more important than anything or anyone else around him.  He gives Sean and Derek explicit orders not to touch his car in any way after handing them the keys, acting like it's the greatest thing in his self-obsessed universe.  In other words, he's a perfect mark for the two guys.  Sean gets the task of scoping out any valuables in Cale's house, which is only three minutes away from the restaurant.  After swiping a new and unopened credit card and stealing some personal information for identity theft, he finds a locked room, and inside he discovers a woman (Kerry Condon) tied up and gagged in the corner.  He also finds a variety of torture tools in a different room just off the garage.

Naturally, Sean freaks out, and eventually chickens out when he has the opportunity to save the woman.  Right then and there, he denounces his criminal life, but he can't get the vision of the woman out of his mind.  Sean becomes obsessed with trying to help the woman.  He goes to the police and even the FBI, freely admitting what he was doing in the house to begin with, and trying to get anyone to listen.  But, whenever the police pay Erendreich a visit, they find nothing.  It doesn't help that Sean has a sketchy past and a record with the law, so they're not exactly keen to believe him to begin with.  Thus begins a battle of wits, as Sean tries to use his skill with technology to uncover the truth about Cale and expose him, while Cale meanwhile is an unhinged psychopath with money to burn, who uses his vast fortune and resources to destroy Sean's life, hurt his friends and family, and even blow up his own multi-million dollar house when he knows that Sean is inside looking for answers.

Bad Samaritan veers dangerously close to being a tacky thriller, such as not really giving its characters a lot of motivation for some of their actions.  Aside from fleeting flashbacks to a moment in his childhood, we don't really know why Cale is such an unhinged psycho to the point that he has a cabin in the woods furnished with a large cage for which to hold his prisoners, complete with a voice activated shock collar that he puts around their neck.  What saves the film is that while there are plenty of moments of bad taste and shock value, it does not revel in it to extremes.  The movie is far too silly and over the top to take seriously anyway, and the filmmakers strike a good balance between genuine thriller elements, and sheer goofiness, such as pretty much any moment Tennant is on camera and gets to monologue.  Sheehan also manages to be sympathetic and kind of clever as the anti-hero who has been doing wrong most of his life in order to support his dreams, but now wants to do the right thing.  He creates a fairly rounded and likable character from a fairly thinly written outline provided by screenwriter Brandon Boyce.

It also has to be said that for all of its silliness, the movie is effective in some simple ways.  Yes, there are a bit too many "jump scares" than a movie like this needs, but it must be said, the scenes where Sean is exploring Cale's house, or trying to stay one step ahead from his psychotic tormentor do have some genuine thrills to them.  The fact that it manages to deliver some genuine thrills, when so many movies fail to do even that, shows a certain kind of effectiveness at the filmmaking level.  This is not a great movie, but it's been made with skill, and there's enough here that I enjoyed that I am recommending the film.  Devlin doesn't exactly show nuance or subtlety with his directing here, but he at least shows that he has a sense of atmosphere and suspense when the need arises.  The movie has a cold and sleek look to it that I admired, and seemed to fit the tone of the film.

Bad Samaritan is goofy enough to work as a basic guilty pleasure, but it at least has a style to it that lets you know that the cast and crew were determined to make something out of it.  To me, they succeeded.  The only consequence that I can see coming from this is that parking valets may be eyed a bit more suspiciously from now on.

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