Confession: I’ll see anything with David Tennant in it. Bad Samaritan, however, barely qualifies as “anything.” Mostly, it’s a collection of spare suspense parts that someone ransacked at the movie dump and is trying to resell as fresh product. Good luck with that.
As compensation, there’s Tennant, the Scottish actor who is the 10th (and arguably the best-ever) Doctor Who and a villain for the ages as Kilgrave on Jessica Jones. He’s clearly relishing the role of supercreep Cale Erendreich, a trust-fund snob who likes getting his way. We hate Cale from the minute he drives his Maserati up to a restaurant in Portland, Oregon, like he owns the damn place. That’s why Sean (Irish actor Robert Sheehan), an amateur photographer, sees Cale as a mark who deserves what he gets. The shutterbug and his partner Derek (Carlito Olivero) are running a perfect valet-stand hustle. They take your car, use the GPS to drive it back to where you live, rob you blind and then get the vehicle back before you finish dessert.
Screenwriter Brandon Boyce knows how to sink in a plot hook – but the man does not know how to deliver the fireworks he promises. Neither does director Dean Devlin (he of the loathsome flop Geostorm), who thinks cribbing from Hitchcock is enough. Spoiler: It’s not. Hitchcock knew how to keep tension simmering while layering in a moral subtext that gave audiences something to chew on later. Bad Samaritan is all surface and as shallow as a drained swimming pool. It’s Tennant who raises the game by giving us a villain to reckon with, a dude who can operate just about anything inside his luxury home from his smart phone or laptop … even a time bomb. No sooner does Sean open the door to Cale’s home than he finds a surprise in the locked room upstairs. There’s a young woman (Kerry Condon) bridled like a mare – our antihero just loves horses – and her popping eyes suggest she’s begging for to be rescued. Judging by the bloody tools on display, it’s all part of a torture-porn fantasy that Cale’s been playing for years.
What should Sean do? Against the better wishes of his partner, the scam artist decides to play good samaritan and call the police. And wouldn’t you guess it, the cops find nothing. Cale, of course, got there first – and now the twisted mister wants revenge on Sean and all he holds dear.
The movie keeps its head above water as long as Devlin focuses on his star’s spirited way with mirth and menace. The scene where Cale demands that his female victim bathe according to his own depraved ritual of soaps and lotions has a Silence of the Lambs vibe that still works despite being stolen goods. But the plot lines go haywire when Cale and Sean head to a cyber standoff that you won’t believe for a second. And at what story meeting did the filmmakers decide you don’t need motivation to persuade us to give a damn about the characters? Bad Samaritan starts with bang, quickly dissolves into a muddle and finally disintegrates in the ashes of its own borrowed inspiration. Tennant deserves better. So do audiences.