Two part-time valet attendants spend their time robbing unsuspecting customers whilst they are busy eating dinner. One night this slick operation comes unstuck when a local businessman pulls up in his Maserati.
Upon first inspection the subject matter and creative force behind this dark and edgy thriller raise questions. Director, writer and producer Dean Devlin established himself in the mid Nineties collaborating with director Roland Emmerich on tent pole movies including Independence Day, Stargate and Godzilla. From then on his projects either theatrically or otherwise have been both entertaining and primarily mainstream. His latest directorial effort however is the equivalent of casting against type, being both inherently dark, morally ambiguous and cinematically challenging.
This might seem like a by the numbers thriller but screenwriter Brandon Boyce is asking us some interesting questions beneath the surface. Issues of nature versus nurture, karmic backlash and moral choices are all addressed within this slick piece of cinema. Set up and concisely drawn within fifteen minutes Bad Samaritan provides backstory, establishes tone and then smartly deviates from expectations. In order for that to work effectively Dean Devlin needed a very specific type of actor.
Bringing in both David Tennant and Robert Sheehan is ultimately what makes Bad Samaritan work so well. They share minimal screen time but each one engages with the audience and brings something different to potentially two-dimensional roles. Of the two Tennant does much of the heavy lifting and seems to revel in breathing life into Cale Erendreich. Emotionally detached, independently wealthy, single-minded and meticulous Tennant manages to make this character human. Boyce’s set up is good and Erendreich carries shades of Patrick Bateman, while Bad Samaritan itself drifts towards American Psycho and into Eli Roth territory. However Devlin is sensible enough to remain on the right side of this line.
Themes of power either over others through circumstance, situation or information are central to Bad Samaritan, while any darker elements are purposely desexualised. If anything my only criticism is that the screenplay becomes formulaic and to tidy too quickly. Great character work is undermined by convenient tech knowledge, thinly drawn supporting roles beyond Sheehan and Tennant while any atmosphere is diminished by predictability. It would have been nice to explore and expand on invasion of privacy issues, those truncated police procedural elements and telegraphed third act.
Dean Devlin can clearly direct punchy character moments and is adept at building tension with the right material, but Bad Samaritan feels like a wasted opportunity. Tennant and Sheehan elevate this film above the conventional but remain hamstrung by stereotypes and formulaic demands.