No Good Deed: This Year’s Most Punishing Experience

By Nguyen Le · September 15, 2014

Generic Gems, also known as Screen Gems, has something new to show! To generate the hype, screenings for critics were cancelled nationwide at the last minute to protect the plot twist. As if the excuse will let No Good Deed brand itself as a step above garbage.

Even when tumbling through proceedings that were literally laid out in a line by screenwriter Aimee Lagos (96 Minutes), stars Idris Elba (BBC’s Luther) and Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) still exude their charms. With towering height and an incredibly friendly gaze, Elba does look the part of a “malignant narcissist," a detail one could only learn after inviting him in. Always count on Henson to bring warmth and energy to any role, no matter how small it might be. The film depends on them to stay standing, yet as strong as they are, all the one-dimensionality and extended cliché moments just cannot prevent a collapse-on-arrival scenario.

‘Not trying’ seems to be the driving force behind Lagos’s writing. After minute one, the next 83 shows no signs of breaking new grounds, subtle or crafty plot unfolding and characterization, as well as any attempt to squeeze something interesting out of either the well-worn home invasion genre or women empowerment theme. The film doesn’t even deserve the title “poor man’s Panic Room.“ As for the twist – really, that is the surprise Screen Gems is withholding? If so, shelving the entire project would have been the smarter choice.

Even Sam Miller’s direction does little in helping. Nothing here, skill or style, is proof of someone who was nominated for a Primetime Emmy, in a show with Elba headlining no less. Nonetheless, it is commendable that Miller anchors everything in reality without resorting to the elaborate, like the catfight in Obsessed, Sorority Row’s death scenes or the deleted buzz saw scene in The Stepfather’s trailer. Tense sequences become serviceable and just right thanks to this… until the script’s predictability, tameness, conveniences and need for dumb decisions to move things along jump in, that is.

Ridiculous to think how a film like this receives a wider release than The Drop.

In a perfect world, No Good Deed would have been shown on Lifetime, Elba and Henson take part in productions more fitting of their statures, Miller continues to thrive as a small-screen director, Lagos has seen quality home invasion films and understood that there is a less in-your-face manner to portray women as strong or anything character-related. With nothing in their right places, the film feels wrong, whatever shown before the rolling credits insulting and bothersome rather than entertaining.

Come to think of it, seeing the film with viewers who are “into it” could result in a good time – get ready for claps, cheers, gasps at Elba’s physique and exclaims along the lines of “Get him again, girl!” at intended moments. This is the badge of honor No Good Deed deserves, something it could wear after receiving the trophy for being this year’s most punishing experience.