Bad Samaritan or Dropped Thread: The Movie (movie review)
When I go to the movies, I want to like the movie. I’m not hoping for it to be bad. I went into Bad Samaritan totally cold – I don’t think I’d even seen the poster. I was ready to go with whatever story this movie wanted to tell. No expectations, no preconceived notions, I was ready to see an entertaining story on any terms. And for the first twenty-ish minutes, it seemed like maybe this trip to the theater might work out – there’s David Tennant, the story might have potential… and then it falls apart, piece by piece.
The movie opens with an establishing montage, including a shot of that “Old Town Portland Oregon” sign with the deer (or whatever) on it that I’m starting to think the Portland Film Office mandates you put in your movie if you shoot there. The fact that the movie takes place in Portland is of zero consequence to the story – in fact, I think it would work better if they made it as ambiguous as possible so you’d have a, “This could happen anywhere,” vibe. Then there’s what seems like the most forced boob shot ever (just one – “boob” is singular intentionally), but it does come back around later, yet at the time, it just seems like a cheap way to get even the tiniest bit of nudity in the film. It may still be, but it does reinforce a narrative thread… that, come to think of it, doesn’t go anywhere. There’s also a forced conversation about our protagonist’s (Robert Sheehan) Irish heritage (because the filmmakers think we need an explanation for why the hero has an accent) and finally the plot gets rolling.
And you know what? I like this premise: valet parking attendants rob their customers houses while they’re at dinner. It’s dumb because they’re obvious suspects, but I’ve never heard that idea before, so fine. Finally, the story really gets rolling when Tennant shows up in a luxury sports car and acts like an ass. Sheehan goes to his place to rob him BUT THE PLOT THICKENS when he finds a woman bound, gag and clearly set to be executed in a room lined from floor to ceiling with garbage bags. The house is riddled with smart devices, including cameras, locks and more all controlled from Tennant’s phone. So it looks like we’re in for a wild time with Sheehan trying to stay ahead of Tennant and his remotely controlled prison, but NOPE, he doesn’t save her because he’s afraid of being discovered. This is where the implosion really starts.
So Tennant does an impossibly fast job of removing all signs of his torture den and body disposall workshop (yeah, he can’t kill and dismember in the same room), oh, and there’s this detective that the movie totally forgets about and replaces him with an FBI agent because… I dunno, fleshing out the movie for scope? Yeah, he doesn’t come back at the end and say, “Sorry kid, I should have worked harder” or something. HE’S NEVER SEEN AGAIN.
What follows is supposed to be a psychological game of cat and mouse between a master criminal and a young man who’s lost his way but is trying to do the right thing, but it doesn’t work at all because the movie keeps forgetting about the plot. There’s so many dropped and unexplained threads. For example, we see Tennant kill Sheehan’s partner and friend, but the cops refer to it as a triple homicide. I saw no other murders, no other bodies. There’s just no explanation. Then after the girlfriend is victimized (tricked into thinking Sheehan humiliated and dumped her), beaten and put in the hospital by Tennant, she tells Sheehan to “go away.” He leaves her, alone, in her hospital bed and she’s never mentioned again.
That’s good story telling!
I’m kidding, it’s not.
If you’ve ever studied writing or literature above a 9th grade level, you’ve probably at least heard the phrase, “Chekov’s gun.” This essentially means that if you set up something in a story, you have to pay it off before the story is over. For example, in Aliens, Sigourney Weaver uses an exoskeleton loader suit early in the film and then at the end, she uses it to fight the xenomorph queen. It’d be weird if they bothered to put a standout piece of otherworldly technology in the movie and then did nothing with it. But Bad Samaritan does this very thing.
WITH A GUN.
Sheehan goes home to warn his parents about Tennant’s warpath to find his dad has been fired from his job for stealing tools he didn’t steal and his mom has been suspended from work for… I dunno, doing something bad. The point is, they both lose their jobs on the same day because Tennant is not screwing around. Sheehan reveals why this is happening and his parents don’t question it for a second, which was a relief. Instead, they pack up and head to a hotel, and the step dad insists that Sheehan come with them rather than play hero. Step dad says he’s going to protect his family and shows us a pistol as he finishes loading the family minivan. Sheehan leaves on his quest anyway. Without the gun.
Step Dad, Mom and little brother ARE NEVER SEEN AGAIN IN THE MOVIE.
This is bad storytelling on multiple levels. Don’t show us a gun that’s not going to get used (it’s not as though Sheehan went there to steal it but oh no, step dad has it and he can’t ask him for it or some nonsense) and don’t forget to show us characters reconnect at the end. It’s not as though you HAVE TO FOLLOW THE RULES OF STORYTELLING, but if you’re not making… I dunno, Donnie Darko or something, you should probably stick to the fundamentals. Also, the rule is called “Chekov’s gun,” which, again, means don’t forget to pay off your setups, but definitely don’t forget when it’s a gun, because, you know… it’s right in the name of the damn rule!
Bad Samaritan has some promising ideas at the start, but man does it become a baffling mess. Maybe they left a bunch of footage on the cutting room floor that would help the movie make sense. It’s not in the film, though, and that’s where it counts.
So, yeah, I don’t recommend this flick accept for educational purposes on what not to do in your movie.