No Good Deed

In the long-shelved No Good Deed, Samuel L. Jackson hovers serenely above the fray, playing a kidnapped amateur cellist/veteran cop whose stately composure makes his captors' frayed edges and mercurial tempers look all the more frantic by comparison. The calm in the middle of the storm, Jackson makes the mistake of helping a seemingly benign old lady (Grace Zabriskie) after she slips in the rain. Unluckily for Jackson, Zabriskie turns out to be part of a gang of crooks, who mistake Jackson for someone hot on their trail and hold him captive while pulling off a $10 million heist. Milla Jovovich co-stars as the lonely, vulnerable woman assigned to make sure Jackson doesn't escape, an assignment she treats as a cross between a babysitting gig and an encouraging first date. Both victim and victimizer, Jovovich plays a woman whose only currency is her sexuality, which she wields like a blunt instrument. The other members of the embattled gang include mustache-sporting leader Stellan Skarsgård, a crusty old-timer prone to casual racism, and a bleached-blond hothead who needs to be kept on a short leash. With the exception of Jovovich, who lends an appealing pathos to her luckless would-be femme fatale, they're a collection of cretins whose own mothers would be hard-pressed to muster more than a "good riddance" upon their passing. They're the kind of incompetents a smart guy like Jackson could outwit and outmaneuver with his hands tied behind his back, which just happens to be the case. No Good Deed was adapted from a short story by Dashiell Hammett, which might explain why it feels simultaneously padded and undernourished. The film doesn't begin to take off until its second half, when it thankfully shucks its weak supporting cast and turns into a three-way battle of wits involving Jackson, Jovovich, and Skarsgård, its wiliest and most compelling characters. This routine thriller, directed by Bob Rafelson (Five Easy Pieces), has been sneaked into theaters with a level of secrecy befitting the CIA, and while it's not the disaster its inauspicious dumping suggests, it doesn't deserve much better, either.

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