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‘No Good Deed’ is undeserving of Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson

‘No Good Deed’ is undeserving of Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson

no good deed 2014

No Good Deed
Written by Aimee Lagos
Directed by Sam Miller
USA, 2014

At times while watching No Good Deed it feels like the film is a test to see just how much of a creeper Idris Elba can be while still being popular with audiences. He plays ex-con Colin Evans, a violent man who loves nothing more than to toy with women. If at first it seems odd that Elba is playing the typical B-movie criminal, it’s because he isn’t just going through the motions. The man who stole the show in Pacific Rim and recreated an icon in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom deserves a little more credit than that.

No Good Deed is directed by Sam Miller of BBC’s Luther, and he knows how to take typical archetypes and work them around his leading man. Memorable villains like Hannibal Lector and Patrick Bateman are all too common for white actors, but, with the exception of Denzel Washington, black actors rarely get those parts. Actors of Elba’s caliber should at least get the chance to play a quality scoundrel.

Both charming and, at the flick of a switch, chilling, Colin Evans appears to be one of those compelling screen baddies you just can’t take your eyes off of. He takes personal delight in preying on women he has a romantic interest in, and such predilections have put Colin in prison, but a parole hearing leads to a bus break-out that puts him back on the streets of suburban Atlanta. Looking for a new victim, Evans finds himself in the posh neighborhood of Terri (Taraji P. Henson).

no good deed review

Left alone after her father-in-law’s health problems call her husband away, Terri spends the weekend alone with her two children. Feigning injuries from a car accident, Colin knocks on her door, asking to use a phone — the world No Good Deed  takes place in suggests that cell phones don’t exist. Terri returns to the door with a phone, only to find an empty door frame. Back inside of her home, she is horrified to find Colin holding her daughter in his clutches.

Terri is now fighting for survival after a simple act of kindness soon turns into a psychological test of endurance. While No Good Deed may look like Home Alone aimed at the Lifetime Channel crowd, the home invasion angle isn’t the endgame of the film. Colin has other motivations and first and foremost it involves breaking Terri down. To the film’s credit, Henson isn’t playing some helpless trophy wife, as she does fight back. A film like this could not hold its own unless both sparring partners are of a high quality, and Henson doesn’t stand down in her performance as Terri. Henson and Elba prove quite capable in establishing the stakes of the cat-and-mouse-games they play, and both make for great viewing. If only the same could be said for the film as a whole.

The thriller benefits from having two very talented leads, but even the considerable staying power of Elba and Henson can’t elevate this B-thriller to anything more than a serviceable distraction. Too many twists and turns are routine, and the exploitative material doesn’t always quite gel with some decisions made on-screen. A degree of sadism is always present in home invasion films, yet the malice is overpowering for the majority of No Good Deed. Good thrillers are built on mental warfare, this is based around strangling and vicious beatings of women. In yet another weekend with limited options at the theatre, No Good Deed is passable for a Friday night, but there’s no rush to see it.

— Colin Biggs