No Good Deed is not a good film by any stretch of the imagination. Yet, I would recommend it highly to almost every single one of my friends. I’m not typically responsive to the “so bad it’s good” mindset, and that’s not where this review is really coming from. I don’t beckon you towards this film so you can laugh at it; I want you to laugh with it. Because I think director Sam Miller (working from a script by Aimee Lagos) knows exactly what this film is at this point. No Good Deed entered post-production over two years ago and, though I have zero inside knowledge or proof that this was the case, it feels like the filmmakers realized they had a disaster on their hands and made the smart move of leaning into the mess rather than shying away from it.
This should be evident by the opening segment, in which a newscaster goes to amazing, ridiculous lengths to clue the audience into how the general concept of parole works. I’m not lying when I say that I got an unmitigated thrill out of watching a film start off on such an impossibly wrong foot. Or was it the right foot? I was laughing, the audience was laughing, so who’s losing in this scenario? I got more of a kick out of the opening two minutes of No Good Deed than I did out of the entirety of the knowingly incompetent dreck of Machete Kills. Miller’s film doesn’t have to reach that far, it knows that the only way you can elevate a mistake is to tweak the banal awfulness at its center.
The air has been vacuumed out of the movie, only the essentials remain. You can almost hear reels of footage hitting the cutting room floor as you watch it. If No Good Deed was once an unbearable two-hour movie, it’s now an enjoyably stupid, pulpy and propulsive 84 minutes—particularly if you’re aware of the kind of talent that is being misused. Idris Elba plays Colin Evans, a “malignant narcissist” who escapes from custody on the way back from a failed parole hearing. Taraji P. Henson is Terri, a one-time lawyer who has traded in her career for the life of a housewife (a task she excels at if the immaculately maintained home she shares with Henry Simmons is any indication). Henson is good as the harried, supposedly frumpy Terri but Simmons is laughably wooden. It’s sort of like she’s married to an asshole robot and the film kind of expects the audience to be surprised by this robot’s actions even though it’s clearly programmed for assholery and nothing else.
When Elba shows up on Henson’s door step, bleeding and in need of a phone, the film posits its half-baked worldview (as evidenced by the title), which essentially boils down to, “never do anything nice for anyone. Ever.” Henson ignores this advice and invites Elba in, much to the initial delight of horn dog Meg (Leslie Bibb). Things go charmingly well for a few minutes, until they don’t. From there you can more or less guess what direction the events will head in, but what you cannot guess at is the aplomb with which they will arrive at their destination.
No Good Deed is, on the surface, a rote and substandard thriller. But it is absolutely bonkers when it comes to the details. The film has no grip at all, not even a flimsy one, on how humans actually behave and interact with each other. And it’s so game-faced about the whole thing that it’s impossible not to be shocked when it makes the choices it does. It’s not a good movie, but it earns my recommendation based on its failings alone. Here, the devil truly is in the details.