Monday 27 August 2018

Small time crooks: "Bad Samaritan"

The crime movie Bad Samaritan is an unusually small-scale and low-watt project for Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich's producer on Independence Day and Godzilla, to have got caught up in; it may have been that, as creatives operating at high Hollywood levels often do, he felt an urge to attempt a swift, back-to-basics palate cleanser after the long and reportedly troubled genesis of last year's Geostorm. If so, it is to Devlin what Pain & Gain was to Michael Bay: take that comparison as you will. It opens with a panorama of working-class Portland locales, then settles in for an extended, slightly convoluted first act designed to hold a plot revelation at arm's length from us. The basics are these: fervently anti-corporate photographer Sean (Robert Sheehan, allowed to keep his Irish accent as a migrant's son) has, in his day job as valet for a chichi restaurant, developed a scam whereby he and a colleague rob the homes of the folks whose fancy cars they've been entrusted to park. A profitable run comes to a crashing halt one night after he slithers into the house of thoroughly corporate arsehole Cale (David Tennant) and discovers a woman (Kerry Condon) chained up in his basement. If it takes a while to set it up, here is a pleasingly cruel dilemma for a 2018 movie to land its protagonist in. Call the police, and risk being busted for breaking-and-entering; don't call the police, and become a possible accomplice in the death of an innocent. Not even the director of Geostorm can entirely mess this premise up.

Granted, subsequent acts mostly unfold as throwback thriller runaround - Sean trying to prove to the authorities that he's not crying wolf, Cale suavely fending off official inquiries and going after his accuser, minor characters being set up for nasty falls - yet individual setpieces are capably staged, and Devlin gets more out of his performers than the apocalyptic blustering his blockbusters have generally traded in. Tennant, pinch-faced and insouciant, appears to be having a lot of fun ensuring his poundstore Patrick Bateman has precisely zero redeeming features; the generally unsympathetic Sheehan (anybody remember Jet Trash, cited in a bizarre in-jokey reference here?) is as effective in this role as - and this isn't entirely a backhanded compliment - Shia LaBeouf was in 2007's Disturbia. That may be the best indicator of the level everybody's operating at here - not Hitchcock, but mock-Hitchcock (or mock-mock-Hitchcock). Still, there are worse creatives for a prominent producer-director angling for a new career path to model themselves on, and this is one of those rare occasions where dialling back the excess - slashing the budget, trawling a less illustrious talent pool, limiting the camera to a few city blocks - really does seem to have refocused a filmmaker into thinking about the plot mechanics that transform story into movie. There remain elements you might well splutter at or quibble with if this were a more serious venture, but here seem to come with the lurid, all-but-straight-to-streaming territory: the use of women as props, some shoddy VFX, a very Nineties protagonist who, when it comes to it, just won't fucking die. Yet watched on VoD or a long-haul flight, it'll sweep you up and carry you along just fine: there will be bigger, starrier thrillers released on many more screens this year that won't work half as well.

Bad Samaritan is now showing in selected cinemas, ahead of its DVD release on October 8.

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