Producers: Andrew Pagana, Michael Chuney, Christos Kalabogias and Ryan David Jahn    Director: Geo Santini   Screenplay: Ryan David Jahn   Cast: Christos Kalabogias, Scotty Tovar, Geo Santini, Justin Taite, Brett Zimmerman, Douglas Smith, Annie Gonzalez, Andrew Pagana, Courtney Turk and Golan Edik   Distributor: Saban Films

Grade: D-

Geo Santini’s threadbare excuse for a thriller is based a premise that’s served reliably since times immemorial—the one about thieves who fall out over their loot.  Sometimes the result is a masterpiece, like “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”  “The Bad Shepherd” falls at the other end of the cinematic spectrum; it’s the polar opposite of a masterpiece.

It begins with a young woman (Courtney Turk) abandoning her stalled car on an unpaved road through the forest, extracting a gun and duffel bag from it, and beginning to walk.  Soon a pickup truck comes barreling along and hits her; she’s dead.  The truck disgorges four scruffy guys, headed for a remote cabin to do some hunting.  Paul (Christos Kalabogias) wants to call the police, but is opposed by John (Scotty Tovar), who inspects the bag and finds it full of cash.  Travis (Brett Zimmerman), the driver, has two DUIs already and would prefer not involving the police, and Leonard (Justin Taite) goes along with him and John, who proposes burying the corpse and divvying up the loot.  When a scruffy cop (Douglas Smith) interrupts them, he winds up dead too, so they arrange the scene to make it appear she killed him and disappeared with the bag. 

So the four men drive to their cabin with a body to bury and money in hand.  All seems okay until another man arrives, an oily guy named Sidney (Santini) in turtle neck sweater and sports coat, who insists they give him the money.  He soon reveals that he knows all about each of them, even their innermost secrets, and says they would do well to do as he asks. They debate what to do while holding him prisoner and fall into argument.

Who is Sidney?  Well, if you think in Biblical terms the title indicates that, as does his unaccountable knowledge, his references to hunting, and his apparent invulnerability.  The four men are apparently his quarry.  As they debate things, they kill another man—identified as Outback (Andrew Pagana), a nervous fellow who wanders toward the cabin, claiming to be living nearby in the woods with his family (and proving it, supposedly, by sporting an old-fashioned Davy Crockett Coonskin cap); John forces Leonard to shoot the poor sap.  It also comes out that Travis has been involved with Paul’s wife Megan (Annie Gonzalez), which of course drives a rift between them.  Meanwhile John is unmasked as the killer of a call girl (Golan Edik) who had tried to rob him after a night’s work years back.

Sidney eggs on their hostility toward one another until they’re at each other’s throats, and the outcome is not happy.

The movie is technically a subfusc affair, filmed drearily by Hugo Bordes (although there are some nice overhead tracking shots, perhaps the work of Kevin Perry, who’s credited with heading the “California Unit,” and made sinister by Ryan Gordon’s gloomy score).  It’s all lazily edited by none other than director Santini, who, had he much self-awareness, would have whittled down his own scenes as Sidney.  His performance is showy in the worst way; it seems that he’s trying to emulate the silken malevolence Alan Arkin brought to “Wait Until Dark” and failing miserably. Of course, it doesn’t help that the lines provided him by Ryan David Jahn are hilariously portentous, at least as he delivers them.  The other actors are amateurish but at least tolerable, though both Smith and Pagana—the latter of whom is also a producer—don’t meet even that low bar.  

A note to filmmakers: it’s not a good idea to put the word “bad” in your title when it’s so perfectly descriptive of your movie.  One always likes to call a debut feature promising, but in this case, that word only means the people involved should promise not to do it again.