Dean Devlin is best-known as the producer of such action-packed Roland Emmerich films as Independence Day, Independence Day: Resurgence and Godzilla (1998). But around these parts, we know him as the director of Geostorm. Remember Geostorm? The not-so-natural disaster movie that felt plucked from the ’90s and was so astoundingly absurd, you couldn’t help but be entertained as too many characters fight for screentime in a plotline that is both too complicated and too dumb. Well, Devlin has wrangled David Tennant for his follow-up Bad Samaritan. And it is a definitely a movie from the guy who made Geostorm.
Set in Portland, Oregon, Bad Samaritan centers on Irish twenty-something Sean Falco (Robert Sheehan), who aspires to be a great photographer but feels like a job in photography is beneath him. So, he works a shady valet gig with his buddy Derek (Carlito Olivero), where they borrow the cars to drive to its owner’s home and rob the place while the owner blithely enjoys a Northern Italian dinner. The idea is to steal little things they won’t notice are missing and leave no trace. But Sean never wears gloves and instantly steals stuff that will be noticed. Anyway, one night, these short-sighted thieves think they’ve found “the perfect score” when a very rich asshole (Tennant) comes their way in a roaring Masserati. But when Sean breaks into the home of the sneering Cale Erendreich, he is shocked to discover a young woman beaten and bound in a locked room. Sean considers saving her, but panics and opts instead to run away.
What follows are a lot of bumbling attempts for this Bad Samaritan to do the right thing. He goes to the cops, but they don’t believe him. And Sean’s attempt at intervention/heroism only makes Cale angry. Dedicated to destroying this “Bad Samaritan,” Cale moves his victim to a remote location, then begins a crime spree to frame Sean and destroy every loved one in his life. For example, Sean’s girlfriend (Jacqueline Byers) only exists to take her shirt off, be slut-shamed, and then beaten so Sean can feel bad. His caring mother and hardass stepfather likewise appear only to be collateral damage.
The script by Brandon Boyce is unkempt, thoughtlessly boasting too many characters with only the slightest definition and function. Its plot meanders as Sean repeatedly begs the cops to believe him. And his whole photography interest? I suppose it’s meant to tie into the photos he takes throughout the film to try to prove Cale’s guilt. But they are all hastily snapped on a cell phone, so it’s a weak connection at best. As the movie bumbles into its third act, an FBI agent is introduced along with a thread about the Trustfund Phantom, a serial killer who she believes has been responsible for the disappearances and presumed deaths of a string of wealthy young women. THIS is actually kind of interesting! But it’s too little too late that the film finds a focus and actually manages to stir some suspense.
Most frustrating of all, Devlin coaxes from Tennant a performance that is a pale imitation of his most unnerving work. Forget the knowing steeliness and sorrow of Doctor Who. Forget the smugness and raw determination seen in Broadchurch. Forget the sexy and deeply unsettling swagger he showed as Kilgrave on Jessica Jones. Here, wrapped in an unremarkable American accent, bland attire and topped with an awkward haircut, Tennant is not ferocious, alluring or frightening. He’s just yelly and gun-loving. When Cale is meant to be menacing, this oft-compelling actor brandishes a gun and shouts and shakes. It seems Tennant is phoning it in, which is a shame as Kerry Condon, who plays the abducted Katie, is an electric scene partner. Her eyes alive with fear, she’s able to shape terror even when she silently performs Cale’s strict rituals or has a gag in her mouth. Thankfully, she gets the best line in the movie when— righteous and furious—she scolds Sean for his being the worst (Samaritan).
This is a bad movie. It doesn’t ask you to just suspend your disbelief to enjoy its very bumpy ride of a twisted criminal mastermind. It asks you to drag your suspension of disbelief behind a shed and beat it to death with a rusty hammer. Otherwise, you’ll watch this movie incredulous from the moment it begins with a boy whipping a screaming horse while a woman screams and then there’s a gun and then we cut to a cityscape that turns sepia and what even is this and oh it’s a photo in an “arty” apartment, and I guess this guy’s a photographer? There’s a careless jumble to the construction of Bad Samaritan that makes it feel like those B-movies about sex, violence, and scandal that used to play late at night on the lesser cable stations.
You know the ones. It’s 3 AM and you’re tired but not sleepy, and you turn on the TV and just give up on channel surfing, ending up on a lazy detective story where the killer says things like, “The vulgar shall be corrected,” and “You are beyond correcting.” It’s not good, but it’s good enough when you’re tired and just over the day. That’s Bad Samaritan. It’s fine viewing for a time when your standards have dropped so low you’ll stumble on them as you finally make your bleary-eyed way to bed.
Bad Samaritan opens Friday.