Struggling photographer Sean Falco (Robert Sheehan) and friend Derek Sandoval (Carlito Olivero) have worked out a nice sideline for their valeting duties at a local restaurant. While diners are eating, Sean and Derek have access to their cars and often details therein of where they live and even access to the property. When they spot a suitable target, one of them will take the car to its home, steal an assortment of contents and have the vehicle back before anyone’s noticed. When one rich customer Cale Erendreich (David Tennant) turns up in a Maserati and is particularly condescending, Sean decides he’ll be their latest target.
Sean is delighted to find some suitable trinkets to pilfer but when a hi-tech locked-door within proves a desirable cat-nip-to-a-cat-burglar challenge, Sean isn’t prepared for what he finds on the other side: a woman strapped firmly to a chair and clearly needing help. With time of the essence and aware that his own presence would see him in trouble with the law, Sean has to leave her there – but anonymously informs the police. Has he done enough to save Erendreich’s captive and does he have any idea what Erendreich will do if he discovers who has been messing with his plans?
Sean is about to find out that bad choices and good intentions will cost him dear…
For all that Tennant was – and remains – one of the most popular incarnations of a certain heroic television time-lord, he’s also proven a dab-hand at more villainous and sinister roles. He was truly despicable as the manipulative Kilgrave in the first season of Netflix‘s Jessica Jones and despite the dodgy decision to have him play Bad Samaritan‘s Cale Erendreich with an even dodgier American accent, the actor once again delivers a sadistic villain you desperately want, nay need, to somehow get his comeuppance – at least, eventually. Tennant seizes the opportunity to play another all-out manipulative bastard with both hands and though the film ultimately offers an explanation of Erendreich’s motivations and track record, they almost aren’t remotely important to audience or actor. Unlike some performers who submerge themselves in a character, it feels likely that Tennant recognised what Bad Samaritan was and was not, decided what Eredreich’s priorities are, cracked his knuckles and simply got down to the business chewing the scenery with steely relish – and it’s that brittle, efficient character that dominates the film, even as the cracks in that demeanour begin to become obvious and we head for an overtly manic ending.
Robert Sheehan, thankfully allowed to keep his Irish brogue, wins the audience over as a feckless but not-without-honour thief who is just trying to get by. There are certainly ways he could behave better and more sensibly at the start of the story (though, pragmatically, it would curtail the film’s running-time if he had!) but once he’s on the path to trying to do the right thing, he does so with earnest. In this type of movie you’re often wondering why people don’t go to the police and it’s a relief when Sean does – and you’re as frustrated as he is when those genuine efforts appear to come to naught. He might be the architect of some of his own problems, but he also makes some smart decisions along the way.
Kerry Condon gets limited screen time as Erendreich’s captive, but makes the most of the scenes she has, particularly towards the end. As needed, there are some contrivances that need you to raise an eyebrow and push aside to enjoy everything, but that shouldn’t stop you from shouting at the screen when you’re imploring characters to do/not do something unwise.
Director Dean Devlin is probably best known for big-screen outings such as Independence Day and Stargate, though in recent years he’s left the world-destroying to Roland Emmerich and instead produced cult television ‘caper’ fare such as Leverage and The Librarians. Bad Samaritan feels like Devlin flexing his muscles a bit – there’s still that aspect of a heightened, B-movie reality (chases! explosions! inept police!) to proceedings but he seems to relish going darker than allowed on television. That said, he still knows when less is more, even in Portland. For a film that involves kidnapping, abuse, murder and people being non-consensually strapped to chairs with leather and metal, Devlin still manages to pull back from the full-on voyeuristic torture-porn aspects that lesser film-makers might have traversed for short-term gains and notoriety. The implements and implications are there to clearly underline the psychotic nature of our villain, but while Condons’ predicament is clearly nasty and unpleasant there’s never a feeling the audience are being asked to vicariously enjoy that. (Equally, Devlin interjects some flashes of well-timed humour that successfully release audiences form moments of tension. Condon herself has one perfect sardonic line that she knocks out of the proverbial ball-park…)
Avoiding the desire to take itself too seriously, which some early reviews did, Bad Samaritan is no more or less than a well-executed guilty pleasure, neither trying to be grand guignol, salacious horror nor epic Oscar-baiting character-study. It’s simply a solid pot-boiler, with tropes reminiscent of several 80s cat-and-mouse thrillers and having some 21st century fun at their expense. Released on DVD in the US this week and in UK cinemas almost simultaneously, it may find a better reaction from the home cinema factor, but you’ll always check your locks…
Bad Samaritan is released to cinemas in the UK on 24th August and is available on DVD in the US now…