All right, so Dean Devlin is a director now. I wasn’t sure how serious he was after last year’s abysmal Geostorm, but it now appears that he’s got his heart set on getting his hands dirty with the same types of projects he became known for producing but that I now assume he must have thought could have been better handled with a little more of that Devlin magic behind the camera. Which is funny, because Bad Samaritan, while at least being better in every respect than Geostorm, is also exactly as by-the-numbers as that previous film.
We have the typical cat-and-mouse shenanigans of the high-tech evil genius (he has a smart house he can control from an app on his phone) versus the scrappy underdog who knows his secret (because he was robbing the evil genius’s house at the time). What sets it apart, at least most obviously, is the performance by David Tenant as the cold and sadistic Cale Erendreich. Tenant pretty much goes nuts with the role, diving in and playing the stock character to the absolute hilt, squeezing every bit of seething, frustrated rage out of the trust fund brat who’s all grown up and taking his anger out on the world by being, essentially, a bad guy in a thriller. Very little of the film, Tenant’s character and performance included, could be said to be taking place in some version of reality, but that ends up being fine since the fun of these movies is in watching how it all plays out even when you know what the inevitable ending has to be.
But before we get there, Bad Samaritan does a surprising amount of character- and world-building work to get us into what the movie is up to, and the movie is actually pretty smart about how it handles the various setups and payoffs required to make the final act satisfying. We meet Sean and Derek (Robert Sheehan and Carlito Olivero), go with them on several baby-step house-robbing gigs (their jobs as valets give them access to their targets’ homes), and learn a bit about their lives. By the time we reach the second act involving the woman held prisoner in Cale’s home (Kerry Condon, surprisingly underused here), we at least can pretend to care about these characters and what they’re going through. It’s too bad the film eventually has to give way to the plotting and pacing of most other movies like this before the big finish, which you’ve also seen a hundred times before.
It would be unfair, though, to undersell just how much fun it is to watch Tenant straight-up walk away with the movie every chance he gets. He knows the material he’s working with and seems to just be having a blast with it, though his part feels strangely small despite the amount of screen time afforded him. I’d recommend it just for the scene where he threatens to skin someone alive and mentions off-handedly that “it’ll take 30 seconds.” Dean Devlin’s going to spend the rest of his directing career chasing another moment that effortlessly interesting.
Rated R for violence, language throughout, some drug use and brief nudity. Now playing at AMC River Hills Classic 10, Carolina Cinemark, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande.