|Idris Elba as the sexy psycho in "No Good Deed"|
Idris Elba stars as Colin Evans, a convicted felon in Tennessee who is up for parole. He was convicted for manslaughter for a bar fight that went too far. However, it's suspected that Colin also brutally murdered a bunch of women. Apparently, there is no proof that he committed those murders, so initially there's a chance that the parole board will free him.
The reason that it's a movie that could be a Tyler Perry film is because that question of his guilt is immediately thrown out the window. Elba is probably best known for his role in HBO's The Wire, a show that put its criminals front and center, but those criminals were never as Colin is described here, which is a "malignant narcissist," a fancy term for basically being evil.
What possibly made The Wire successful is that its characters, even if they were criminals, weren't straight evil. They had reasons for their actions that made sense given the socioeconomic and cultural circumstances they found themselves. Plenty of TV shows and horror films or thrillers utilize straight evil characters, but it's always scarier or more of an engaging quandary, if there is some nuance or sympathy.
None of that exists here. Written by Aimee Lagos, what might have helped is if some of the mystery regarding Colin's crimes had remained a mystery. Director Sam Miller could have also chosen to keep Colin's misdeeds undercover, but instead the filmmakers never let the audience be on his side.
As such, every action Colin makes becomes predictable. Thus, the movie becomes boring, as it slides to its inevitable conclusion. I suppose as a pulpy thriller it works. It's suitable, B-movie excitement that trades more on its star's growing sex appeal than any kind of intrigue or intelligence. To the black women of the Cinema In Noir podcast who hoped for a shirtless Idris Elba moment, you got it. In fact, you see Elba go fully nude as he takes a titillating and tense shower.
It's at this intersection that things become worrisome. Elba is certainly not the first person to use physical attractiveness to maintain interest in a character that one would sooner avoid or use sex appeal as almost a weapon. Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) comes to mind. Jennifer Jason Leigh in Single White Female (1992) and Josh Brolin in last year's Labor Day (2013) were also about sexy psychos. One of the best examples of this is this year's Stranger By the Lake.
Yet, what's worrisome is that the image of the black man has been plagued with too many recent negative portrayals. Aside from Kevin Hart in Ride Along, Anthony Mackie in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and possibly Dwayne Johnson in Hercules, there really haven't been any black male heroic characters on the big screen this year.
It's not this film's job to rectify that, but with all the domestic abuse cases in the news, particularly in regard to the NFL players like Ray Rice, it's difficult to divorce those images of Rice beating up his now wife in an elevator with the images in this film of Colin beating up various women, including one who was his girlfriend, and not resent the film itself.
Fortunately, Oscar-nominee Taraji P. Henson co-stars as Terri, one of the women whom gets beaten up after Colin invades her fancy, Atlanta home, and Terri is a strong, black mother who is smart and fiercely fights back. She's not just a helpless victim, which is a common media image. Thankfully, this movie doesn't portray her as that. If this movie is watchable at all, it's only to see Taraji P. Henson fight and in fact kick Idris Elba's ass.
This movie does have a twist. It goes to explain why Colin is doing what he's doing in the latter half of the movie. I have to say that I didn't like it. First, it needlessly condemns yet another black man. Second, it only muddles things because it makes it seem that Colin had some kind of plan, which if he did, it's made even less clear after the twist is revealed. It's never really clear what his goal is or how he hopes to accomplish it. I suppose things spin out of control and he has to just improvise. Yet, it seems as if he and the filmmakers lose sight of any direction.
Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, menace, terror, and for language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 24 mins.