The watchability of “Bad Samaritan,” the latest nonsensical schlock fest from producer-turned-director Dean Devlin (“Geostorm”), depends entirely on its star. No, not Robert Sheehan (“Mute”), who never quite makes an impression despite playing what’s ostensibly the main character of the piece, a small-time crook who accidentally robs the house of a sadistic kidnapper. Instead, the indisputable star of the film, for better or worse, is David Tennant (“Jessica Jones”) as the villain.
The actor’s highs and lows mirror those of the movie; at times when Tennant and Brandon Boyce’s (“Apt Pupil”) script give into the B-flick qualities, implied by the title of “Bad Samaritan,” there’s a strange sort of charm to the proceedings that the finished product arguably doesn’t do enough to earn. Unfortunately, those moments grow fewer and farther as the movie trudges forward. By the time the story has reached its laughably abrupt conclusion, it has made a heel turn into ignoring its innate cheesiness and has stranded Tennant in a self-serious, predictable mess of a thriller that both he and the audience are forced to suffer through.
The first scenes alone practically beg for the cheesier treatment. Overdone score? Check. Stock footage of an indeterminate skyline? Check. Poorly edited shots of a child doing something evil to try and be as edgy as possible as early as possible? Check. By the thirty-second mark, “Bad Samaritan” is one instance of forced nudity away from B-movie bingo and it hits that mark in the next thirty seconds. Tennant showing up in fast-talking jackass mode is just icing on the cake. Cinematographer David Connell (TV’s “The Librarians”) even shoots him in purple hues, just in case those “Jessica Jones” flashbacks weren’t strong enough.
But by the end of the first act, it’s clear that “Bad Samaritan” will be opting for another Dark and Gritty™ story about bad people who do bad things in dim lighting because somewhere along the line, a good deal of people became convinced that this is what makes a good movie. Instead of giving Tennant the chance to exercise the sadistic charm that made his Kilgrave such a delight, he’s saddled with faux heady dialogue like “There shall be an unholy reckoning” and “I’m the decider!” when someone does something he doesn’t like. Get it? He has control issues, so he kidnaps people so he can control them. It’s the kind of contrived reasoning that sounds silly on an episode of “Criminal Minds.” It’s just insulting here.
It’s all fun and games until “Bad Samaritan” tries to be a real film. The problem isn’t that Devlin’s latest might have been a good B-movie, though it’s a fun thought to entertain. The problem is that when it goes another direction with its story, that story falls apart. The fact every character — including Tennant’s at-times borderline omniscient sadist — is forced to act like an idiot in order to move the script forward. The fact that Devlin seems to think that his audience is no smarter than those characters and will willfully ignore glaring plot holes. The fact that the script unfolds exactly as anyone would expect it to with just basic knowledge of the premise. All of this could have been overlooked if the film had the decency to be dumb fun as opposed to just dumb.