Sony // 2002 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Erin Boland (Retired) // March 11th, 2004
He was more than a cop. She was more than a thief.
Director Bob Rafelson (Five Easy Pieces) brings us No Good Deed a crime thriller based on The House on Turk Street, a short story by Dashiell Hammett (author of The Maltese Falcon). The result is a bizarre update of a 1930s/40s story that probably would have been more appropriate in black and white than in color.
Jack Friar (Samuel L. Jackson, S.W.A.T.) is a cop investigating cases of grand theft auto. With mere days before a much-needed vacation, a neighbor asks him for help in locating her missing 15-year-old daughter. He reluctantly concedes and heads for Turk Street in search of the missing girl. As it starts to rain, Jack spies an old woman (Grace Zabriskie, Gone in Sixty Seconds) falling down her steps while bringing in the groceries. Rushing over, he insists on helping with the groceries for her and her boorish husband (Joss Ackland, K-19: The Widowmaker). While describing the missing girl's much older boyfriend, Hoop (Doug Hutchinson, The Green Mile), a local gang thug, overhears the discussion and believes that Jack is describing him. In a panic, Hoop and his deranged gang of belligerent bank robbers jump Jack, holding him hostage. In the meantime, Tyrone (Stellan Skarsgård, Ronin), the mastermind, begins plotting a new heist with the help of a corrupt bank employee (Jonathan Higgins), who just happens to be in love with Tyrone's spoiled girlfriend, Erin (Milla Jovovich, Resident Evil). Leaving Jack in Erin's custody, things take a turn for the worse, as he becomes more involved with the caper and this gang of the would-be thieves than he had ever anticipated.
No Good Deed is a rather bizarre film. It took me quite awhile to figure out how I could put it into a perspective appropriate for discussion. In the end, I thought it might be interesting to compare No Good Deed to The Maltese Falcon. Even though these films are from very different eras, they're both based on works by the same author and more or less fall into the same genre: film noir / neo-noir. Interestingly enough, some of the films' elements and their respective stories are quite similar -- either that or the director's intentions were similarly motivated.
No Good Deed focuses on Jack Friar, a diabetic cop who works auto-theft and also happens to be an amateur cellist. As a protagonist, Jack Friar is, at times, difficult to like. He's a survivor, but appears to be doing so by lying low, until he can passively take advantage of the situation. While we do get to see Samuel L. Jackson in a softer role than he normally plays, I'm not really sure I like it. I think Kevin Spacey or Ed Norton might have been a better choice.
Conversely, in The Maltese Falcon, while it appeared all the cards were stacked against Sam Spade, he somehow managed to be in complete control of the mess he found himself in. It wasn't always clear what side of the law Spade was going to end up on, but he still comes across a much stronger, more admirable character than Jack Friar. What's more, Spade didn't take crap from no one -- not even the broads.
As a "Neo-Noir," the film contained most of the traditional elements: darkness, dreary weather, and long shadows. Yet somehow the film comes across as more bizarre than it's noir-ish predecessors. While it did explore the darker side of the human soul -- most notably in the relationship between Erin and Tyrone -- it just seemed like something was missing from that true noir feel.
Despite the fact that none of the roles appeared extremely demanding, the acting was rather inconsistent. While some of the actors did a fairly decent job, others were definitely lacking. Stellan Skarsgård was admirable as Tyrone -- convincing and enjoyable to watch. However, both Milla Jovovich and Samuel L. Jackson were rather insipid and their performances left something to be desired. There were just certain facets of Erin's personality I felt Milla didn't convey strongly enough. As for Jackson, I would much rather see him in a more hard-boiled role. The scene where they are playing the cello together is supposed to exude erotic tension, yet somehow comes across as an uncomfortable flirtation, rather than a tense moment where neither are able to act upon their emotions. In the end, it isn't clear what Jackson truly feels for Erin. Had he been more convincing, the climax of the storyline would have had much more of an impact. Going back to The Maltese Falcon the interaction between Sam Spade and Brigid O'Shaughnessy, though less erotic, was much more convincing. The possibility that Sam just might end up with Brigid, even though she isn't really good for him, comes across loud and clear to even a first-time audience.
Despite the similarities, in my opinion, The Maltese Falcon remains a much better film. Overall, I would label No Good Deed a B Movie. It struck me as lacking a certain cohesive feel that most A-list films seem to possess.
The quality of this transfer was as good as any film made after 2000. The picture composition contained a lot of the classic elements of film-noir, the darkness, rainy weather, etc. I wouldn't say that the film was a model for film composition style, but it wasn't really that bad either. The sound on the DVD was also of good quality. I had absolutely no problem with understanding dialogue or having to adjust for several overly loud parts of the movie. The soundtrack wasn't the greatest. There were a few nice moments, but nothing sticks in my mind as being incredibly remarkable. The DVD really lacked content in the extras category, as it contained only four studio trailers. One word comes to mind when summing up the DVD: blah.
This film is bizarre. It may be worth renting, but you just might wish you had that hour and a half of your life back. (Even my brother, a die-hard Samuel L. Jackson fan, didn't really like the film.) In short, No Good Deed is a no good movie.
As far as packaging a film goes, Columbia should know better, and is found guilty as charged. Samuel L. Jackson is asked never to do "touchy-feely" again. The rest of the cast is asked to remain sober while reading a script. Everyone else is found guilty by association. Court adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R