No Good Deed (2002)Overview -
Samuel L. Jackson (S.W.A.T., Basic, XXX) Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc), Stellan Skarsgard (The Glass House, Ronin), and Doug Hutchinson (The Green Mile, The Salton Sea) star in this pulse-pounding crime thriller based on a work by Dashiell Hammett and directed by the acclaimed Oscar nominee (1970, Five Easy Pieces, Best Picture) Rob Rafelson (Five Easy Pieces, Blood and Wine).
A missing persons investigation escalates into a deadly game of cat and mouse when detective Jack (Jackson) is captured and held hostage by a gang of brutal thieves in the process of an elaborate bank robbery. Cruel mastermind Tyrone (Skarsgard), manipulative girlfriend Erin (Jovovich), and deranged henchman Hoop (Hutchinson) are locked in a dangerous web of deceit, double-cross and romantic intrigue, making Jack a pawn in the lethal high stakes plot. Against all odds, Erin and Jack find themselves erotically drawn to each other, igniting a volatile love triangle that turns deadly as the body count rises. Deception is the rule in this action-packed, pitch-black thriller that will hold you in suspense until the final frame.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
If a short story or a novel is too thin to be the genesis of enough material to make a movie - it's probably a good idea to leave well enough alone. Sure, 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' could be considered an exception to that nugget of advice, but the exception doesn't make the rule. When you have a writer like Dashiel Hammett who is known for creating intricate noir detective thrillers and you get Bob Rafelson behind the camera - you expect some sort of cinematic magic, even if it's subtle. 'No Good Deed' takes a good solid story set up, a great cast, and a talented director and somehow manages to not go anywhere with the material.
Jack Friar (Samuel L. Jackson) is a hard-boiled detective, only he doesn't solve murders or high stakes robberies, instead he tracks down stolen cars. It's pretty much a thankless job that gets him from point A to point B financially. It turns out the good Mr. Friar is a bit of a music lover having been classically trained as a musician and is quite keen to follow in the cord progressions of YoYo Ma and play the cello. With some accrued vacation time under his belt, Jack hopes a weekend getaway to a music conservatory will help him hone his talents and give hims some balance in life that he desperately needs.
As the great Al Swearengen once said, "…announcing your intentions is the quickest way to hear God laugh." A neighbor pops by Jack's place just as he's about to head out of town and begs him to track down her daughter and take on a missing person's case - something a little out of his bandwagon. Sure he's a cop, but he's a cellist first. Being the nice guy that he is, he reluctantly agrees to find the missing girl thusly postponing his cello playing vacation. After digging about he learns the young girl either ran off with or was taken by a guy with blond hair - not the strongest of clues to go on, but it's enough to keep looking.
While following up a lead, Jack encounters a seemingly innocent old lady stuck in a rain storm with sacks of groceries. The sweet old Mrs. Quarre (Grace Zabriskie) offers to give Jack a nice glass of tea for all the trouble she put him through. Meeting her husband Mr. Quarre (Joss Ackland) the conversations inevitably turns to what Jack is doing in such a remote area during a rain storm. Telling the sweet old couple about the case he's working on earns Jack a solid knock to the cranium. Jack awakens tied to a chair with a cadre of surly faces staring down at him. Tyrone (Stellan Skarsgård), a blond man named Hoop (Doug Hutchison), David (Jonathan Higgins) and the sleek and sexy Erin (Milla Jovovich) along with the Quarre's all happen to be in on a bank heist. With Jack looking for a blond man, they naturally assume he's after Hoop - but without the picture of the man he's after, Jack can't prove he's looking for someone else.
As the gang of criminals decide what to do with their captive, they also now have to move up their timetable. While bound to the chair, Jack studies their actions and quickly sees that Erin is much more than she seems. She has a way of playing every one, turning on charm or menace to get any specific person to do her bidding, whether they're aware of it or not. When the gang moves on their target earlier than expected, that leaves Erin to guard Jack. What should have been a simple missing persons case for Jack turns into a battle of wits as he's going to have to stay ahead of the game if he hopes to survive. On top of that, Jack is a diabetic without his medication and is in desperate need of an insulin shot.
If there was ever a movie that had a great deal of squandered potential, it would be 'No Good Deed.' The whole movie feels like a pot boiler that never had the heat turned on, so it remains a tepid puddle of half-stewed ideas. It doesn't take long for the film to start feeling like better movies along the lines of 'Key Largo,' or 'The Petrified Forest.' I know those are two Bogart flicks - but they're what comes to mind. Only this one doesn't have a hurricane or a sand storm to up the drama or tension. When you have a movie being directed by the guy that brought the world 'Five Easy Pieces,' 'Blood and Wine,' and 'The Postman Always Rings Twice,' you naturally expect a little something to leap off the screen. Instead this movie just sort of sits around the house and goes nowhere. It's like someone watched those other two classic suspense films I mentioned and tried to mimic the pacing and structure, but forgot to add any kind of nuance to make the venture worth the time.
If I have a complaint about 'No Good Deed' it is that the movie feels like a two act play that was stretched to fill an hour and forty minute run time. There just isn't enough plot to justify what's happening so it's filled with a number of meandering conversations. Part of the problem is that other than putting Jack on the search, the beginning of the movie doesn't really have much barring on the plot. It's a thread that gets the movie going, provides some character background but is pretty quickly dropped. The progression for character development feels either forced or completely absent. Why is Erin playing with each man in the group so obtusely? While that does get an explanation later in the film's run, it comes almost too late to be meaningful. Then you have the pseudo ticking clock element of Jack's diabetes. Honestly, this should have been suspenseful, but it isn't when the gang would rather see him dead anyway - a diabetic coma is kind of a blessing in disguise for these people, so there isn't much of an impetus for them to worry about saving his life since they're robbing a bank and will need to skip town anyway.
Performances are all around pretty good - and that may be the bigger tragedy of 'No Good Deed.' The cast is genuinely trying to bring this puppy home. Jackson is really working here to create a well rounded character that has some depth and meaning, but his efforts are cut short by a half baked plot that doesn't afford him the range he's trying to bring to the show. Milla Jovovich is genuinely pretty good as Erin, but she's such a bland character that we never really feel for her. She's sleek and sexy, but that's to be expected, there's no meat to the role. Similarly Stellan Skarsgård's Tyrone is just as bland. Sure he's a bad guy because he's got a gun and threatens people, but he's hardly an Edward G. Robinson. Also I can't help think they modeled his appearance after John Waters so whenever I saw him on screen I probably laughed a little more than I should have.
'No Good Deed' is one of those movies you want to be good while you're watching it. It has the right elements in play to be a good movie - but something happened when they were put together. I guess after seeing this it shouldn't come as a surprise that this was Director Bob Rafelson's last feature film directorial effort. While it isn't surprising, it is a shame because the man did direct genuinely good movies, on top of a classic Lionel Richie music video.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'No Good Deed' makes its Blu-ray debut from Mill Creek Entertainment pressed on a BD25 disc. The disc comes housed in a standard case and opens directly to the main menu.
'Sub-par' would be the best way to describe the 1.78:1 1080p transfer that 'No Good Deed' brings to Blu-ray. The Image is relatively flat and lifeless. It looks like quite a bit of digital smoothing was employed and contrast levels fluctuate scene to scene giving rise to some crushed black levels and rough shadow separation. Without much in the way of retained film grain being evident, the image has a smoothness to it that is pretty creepy as this cast looks like a squad of wax mannequins. Colors are overall okay, and flesh tones are fine - there just isn't anything remarkable about the image's appearance. This is very obviously a repurposed DVD master that wasn't given much in the way of an overhaul when put to Blu-ray.
'No Good Deed' also sports an equally lackluster Dolby Digital 2.0 track. The primary problem here is that the track has virtually no imaging and is very front loaded. Music, dialogue, sound effects, ambients - anything that would give the film a sense of atmosphere and presence are punched out the middle. I'd almost go so far as to say this track sounds more like a mono track that was being pushed through the stereo channels, but even then a mono track can have a feeling of life and presence to it. You can hear dialogue well enough, but there isn't a life-like crispness to it making the spoken dialogue feel hollow. To its credit the track keeps levels decently balanced and in the midranges, but there's no real power to it, so when the stakes are raised and things actually happen it still sounds flat.
No extra features present.
'No Good Deed' is just one of those movies that on paper should have worked beautifully, but the final product just didn't come together. It's a shame because there is some genuinely decent work on display from the cast and they're trying to make the most of the thin material. It's just a bland movie that fails to go anywhere interesting. Toss in the poor A/V quality and the lack of extras and this is a fairly pitiful Blu-ray. If you already have the DVD, there's no reason to upgrade. If you've never seen it, there are a dozen other better movies out there to see first. I'd say skip this one altogether.
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