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No Good Deed (2014); And Why It’s Not That Bad

September 17, 2014

no_good_deedNo Good Deed got released under an air of controversy and apprehension. If the trailer alone didn’t scream “straight-to-video intended release,” then Sony Screen Gems’ refusal to issue an advanced screening before the film’s actual release date became a warning sign to movie goers of its potential lousiness. Yet, despite the initial lack of reviews, audiences flocked to the theaters allowing it break into the number one spot over the weekend. The disparity between audience approval and critical analyses for No Good Deed has been astounding– though not shocking. Rotten Tomatoes currently holds a 13% rating for the film, while the audience rating is at a steady 70%. The IMDB break downs reveal that on average women were about 30% more likely to rate the film higher than men. I became slightly ambivalent as to why audiences, in particular women (myself included), rushed to a film that pits its lead actor as a sociopath who goes into a murderous rage around women. What was there that truly attracted me to this film?

As a critic and avid movie goer, my experience watching No Good Deed was interesting to say the least. I knew from the get go that it looked terrible. Not 10% terrible, but No Good Deed appeared as though it was a film that had been sitting on studio shelves for years until they realized the profit that could be made from heart-throb Idris Elba’s skyrocketing fame owed to his recent transgressions into blockbuster films. My obsession with the HBO drama series “The Wire” became my introduction to Elba through his portrayal of the business-minded smooth talking gangster, Stringer Bell. I’ve been hooked ever since. Elba’s tall statuesque build, mixed with an aura of confidence and brazen sex appeal was enough to send me near running into my crowded theater for a good spot. It’s no secret what draws women to No Good Deed.

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Now, sex appeal aside, critics are right. No Good Deed’s story is shit. It’s your typical home invasion, cat versus mouse, killer on the loose genre picture that uses every trope we’ve ever seen in films of its magnitude. It’s like watching any given installment of the Halloween or Friday the 13th franchise minus the genuine scares and committed tension. Despite its humdrum conventional plot, Amiee Lagos’ script does include moments of well thought out motives for these tropes to take place in the ways they do. Our terrified victim, Terri (Taraji P. Henson), can’t use her cell phone in times of need because it drops in the rain during a storm. She can’t simply run from her home into the woods because her infant son and adolescent daughter are sleeping in the house. She can’t just attack her perpetrator, Colin (Idris Elba) because he’s smart enough to have removed the weapons before the terror begins.

On the flip side, No Good Deeds’ explanations are extremely inconsistent. Why doesn’t a cop who stops Terri and Colin in her car ask Colin to step out since she’s the one who flashed her lights at the officer and looks distressed? Why does Colin give Terri’s daughter a souvenir and in what time frame was that feasible?  Along with countless other moments of confusing storytelling, Sam Miller’s direction and Randy Bricker’s editing feel holistically amateur. It’s shameful during a scene when Terri is forced to shower with Colin, for no other reason than female audience titillation mind you, only to leave the shower with bone dry hair, then somehow have soaked hair moments later in a closet.

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No Good Deed is a strange commodity for being both attractive and repulsive. I got confused by my own feelings of excitement, then disgust at Colin’s actions. Similar to films of the same nature, like James Foley’s thriller Fear, the focus is on the sexual excitement that one can feel from a volatile, unpredictable situation. No Good Deed toys with these idea, but quickly dilutes the potency by introducing viewers to Colin’s psychopathy from the film’s opening credits. Though Elba’s charming attractiveness creates moments of coy likability, Colin is immediately spoiled because we see his true nature in the first few minutes of the film. No Good Deed plays out a strange tango of delivering viewers with the dominance/submission fantasy that many who flocked to see the film may have, but it also exposes the very real fear of male power and violence.

Regardless, the theater I watched No Good Deed in made for an insanely fun experience. Also the 24oz beer that I smuggled and sipped on while in the theater made much of the film 10 times more interesting and enjoyable to watch based on the audience reaction alone. The audience gasped and booed during Colin’s moments of menace and abuse. They cheered and clapped any time Terri used her wits to outsmart him. They groaned with laughter whenever a typical trope caused Terri to put herself in harm’s way.

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Despite being rough around the edges, No Good Deed is unique in the way that it gives the female lead more freedom to dominate in her situation instead of becoming a helpless victim at the mercy of cops or a savior. She’s the one who can save the day, she’s the one who stays one step ahead, and she’s the one who can take a few punches and outsmart the criminal. No Good Deed in all its shameful mediocrity is a triumph for not only women, but black women in cinema. Though the film is weak in execution its message is inspiring and admirable.

AVOID IT. Unless your watching experience will consist of booze and an over active audience.

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