Tag Archives: D-

NO GOOD DEED

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Merely dropping the last word from the title results in an accurate description of this nasty, ugly, extremely dumb home-invasion stinker, which wastes the considerable talents of Idris Elba. Except for the big-screen dollops of gore, it could easily pass for a bad basic cable flick.

Elba, who had a career high with “Mandela” last year, sinks to the opposite extreme as Colin Evans, a fellow suspected of having killed five women but convicted only of manslaughter in a barroom fight, who engineers a bloody escape from a prison van after he’s denied parole. After visiting his old girlfriend Alexis (Kate Del Castillo), who’s been unfaithful to him, he crashes his van and goes to the suburban home of Terri (Taraji P. Henson), whose husband Jeffrey (Henry Simmons) has just left for a golfing outing with his father. Since it’s a dark and stormy night—a phrase that encapsulates the mediocrity the film also exudes—she foolishly invites him in, despite the fact that she’s alone with her kids, little daughter Ryan (Mirage Moonschein) and her baby brother.

Bad mistake. Colin’s soon transformed from a pleasant-seeming bloke to a steely-eyed menace, as Meg (Leslie Bibb), Terri’s best friend (though, as it turns out, not forever) finds out after she comes over with a bottle of wine. What follows is the kind of cat-and-mouse game that pictures like “Wait Until Dark” have managed so cleverly but this one flubs terribly. Writer Aimee Lagos resorts to the most pathetic clichés—tree limbs breaking through windows, power outages, car alarms that abruptly go off—in a failed effort to drum up some scares, while Sam Miller directs leadenly and Paul Haslinger’s overloud score works overtime to try to pump up the increasingly tedious action. Neither the cinematographer by Michael Barrett nor the editing by Jim Page and Randy Bricker shows any distinction, either.

Meanwhile Elba—who turns out to be one of the most inept stalkers on record—strains to be threatening, and one does have to admire his recuperative powers: he’s repeatedly bashed and stabbed, but like the Energizer Bunny just keeps on going. Henson, similarly, works hard but never engages our concern any more than the kids, who turn out to be almost preternaturally quiet after the opening scenes. (It seems a cruel joke on Henson, by the way, to have Elba pointedly notice a bottle of Fat Burner in the family medicine cabinet.) Bibb is only one of the supporting cast members introduced to bite the dust so our heroine doesn’t have to.

“No Good Deed” will probably be remembered, if at all, for one of the silliest studio excuses ever offered for excluding critics from seeing a movie before opening day. On Tuesday night Screen Gems announced that reviewers would not be permitted to attend the Wednesday preview to which they’d previously been invited. The reason given was that the picture contained a twist they wanted to keep under wraps. Apart from the insulting implication that critics would reveal the “spoiler,” the fact is that the twist, when it comes, is such a damp squib that it’s more likely to elicit a yawn than a gasp. There’s no “Psycho”-level revelation here.

It’s more likely that the studio’s rationale related to the terrible timing of releasing a picture filled with violence against women at a moment when that topic is headlining the news. Not that there would ever be a good time—or reason—to foist this kind of meretricious junk on the public.

WISH I WAS HERE

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Zach Braff’s sophomore follow-up to his overrated debut “Garden State” begins badly with an ungrammatical title, but immediately tops that with an opening scene so terrible that it might make your jaw drop in appalled amazement. And while it gets marginally better after that, it never becomes anything more than an anemic sit-com leavened with heavy-handed doses of mawkishness. “Wish I Was Here” will make you wish you weren’t.

Braff, who co-wrote the script with his brother Adam and directs it as well, stars as Aidan, a wannabe actor who can barely make it through an audition, let alone land a role—but won’t give up his dream. That leaves it to wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) to be the family breadwinner, though her office work requires her to put up with a sleazily sexist co-worker (Mark Thudium). And it’s help from Aidan’s father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) that finances the cost of private yeshiva school tuition for their kids Grace (Joey King) and Tucker (Pierce Gagnon)—which Aidan’s happy to accept even though he’s not observant himself.

Problems arise when Gabe announces that his terminal cancer requires him to spend all that he has left on a costly experimental treatment and can no longer foot the kids’ school tab. That forces Aidan to begin home-schooling them, though he’s singularly ill-equipped to do so and seems to spend little or no time on instructing them anyway. Instead he’s going off to auditions and dealing with Gabe’s illness while trying to get his reclusive brother Noah (Josh Gad) to leave his trailer and see the old man, and day-dreaming about how as a kid he imagined himself as a courageous space knight fighting all sorts of evil creatures.

This is one tiresome brew. Aidan is meant, one supposes, to be a charming, well-intentioned but hapless schlub, but as played by Braff he comes across as a narcissistic jerk, whom Braff the writer heaps with purportedly funny lines while Braff the director, with the connivance of cinematographer Lawrence Sher, makes him the absolute center of this cinematic universe. But he’s not the only irritating character on display here. The two kids—oh-so-orthodox Grace and troublemaker Tucker—are almost as tiresome, and as Sarah’s loathsome colleague Thudium is very nearly intolerable. Gad’s Noah is only slightly less annoying than Braff’s Aidan, a caricature of genius-level arrested development, and Hudson is pretty much wasted as Sarah. Even the two rabbis (Alexander Chaplin and Allen Rich) are crudely treated for some cheap jokes, and Jim Parsons’ brief role as another failed actor is of sub-sitcom standard. The only person who emerges with his dignity unscathed is Patinkin, who underplays nicely even though his scenes as written are hopelessly maudlin.

There’s a shambling, episodic quality to “Wish I Was Here” one might justify by arguing that it reflects its auteur’s personality, which was the saving grace of “Garden State.” But this time around Braff seems incapable of coming up with anything but tired gags about swear jars, video games, comic-cons, first dates and test drives in expensive cars. And he’s totally unable to create a character you even like, let alone sympathize with. Even an accomplished comic actor working with a skillful director couldn’t make the Aidan of this witless script engaging, and here one finds neither. Sher’s camerawork isn’t impressive either, though as with his previous picture Braff has given great attention to the songs that serve in the background, so the soundtrack may be of interest to some listeners.

“Wish I Was Here” was partially funded by one of those Kickstarter campaigns in which ordinary folk become small-time investors in a film. After seeing the result anybody who shelled out their hard-earned cash in support of such a vanity project might feel like kicking themselves in the rear if that weren’t a physical impossibility.