Something to do with a horse, a whip and a screaming woman. That’s just about it when it comes to motivating a psychopath in the world of Bad Samaritan, a Hitchcock-lite, cat and mouse thriller from Dean Devlin. After the preposterous bombast of the director’s first film – Geostorm – this sophomore effort is oddly innocuous.
That’s not to say that Bad Samaritan is entirely bland; nor is it lacking in degrees of crass exploitation. Whilst there are gory pleasures to be devoured within Brandon Boyce’s script – overlong at nearly two hours – some of its flavours leave a bitter aftertaste and others barely register.
It all begins promisingly enough, with wide-eyed photographer Sean Falco (Misfit’s scrappily charming Robert Sheehan) introduced as the film’s likeable lead – a modern James Stewart, perhaps. In a scene shot like the sun-dappled flashbacks of a revenge romp, Devlin establishes Sean’s relationship with sweet, college girlfriend Riley (Jacqueline Byers) as idyllic. He’s a poor wannabe photographer, scraping by with a bottom-of-the-pile job, and she lets him snap her with no bra on. Cute.
Except, things aren’t exactly as they seem. Sean claims poverty but boasts the latest tech and a treasure chest of jewellery in the boot of his car. Along with best friend Derek (Carlito Olivero), Sean moonlights as a valet who robs blind the arrogant guests of the restaurant he works for by shooting off to their homes in their cars whilst they eat. They’re smalltimers – ‘You stole stamps? Who steals stamps?’ – and only target arseholes. The logistics don’t quite add up but go with it; the real point here is that the pair pick the wrong target in David Tennant’s filthy rich sadist Cale Erendreich.
Revelling in the opportunity to further distance himself from the family friendly role that made his name, ex-Doctor Who star Tennant dishes up a gleefully vile turn here; one loaded with the menace of his Kilgrave and the ham of his Casanova: ‘You’ve earned the next stage in your evolution and the vulgar shall be corrected’ A more morally challenging film might have sought to delve further into the ambiguity of a villain being battled by a thief but Devlin draws boundaries to that end. If Cale is as bad as they come, Sean must be unassailably good, albeit out of his depth. With his excess of charisma, Sheehan makes for a solid protagonist, yet is allowed no room for complexity.
Indeed, on discovering a woman (Kerry Condon’s Kate – not that Sean ever actually bothers to ask her name) bound up and brutalised in Erendreich’s office, Sean panics and flees the scene, wishing that he had saved her. Determined to make amends, Sean repents his former life and sets out on a mission to save Kate and section Cole, who won’t go down without a fright.
While the film, to its credit, embraces its contemporary setting with neat cautionary stabs at the dangers of smart technology, there’s a cliched traditionalism to it all that robs the unfurling action of bonafide tension. Devlin’s continuously stolid approach to filmmaking, meanwhile, grants his film an artlessness, never allowing its premise to reach full capacity and escape unremarkable territory.