By Liam Lacey
Class paranoia is running rampant these days. Bad Samaritan is the second movie this year, after Eli Roth’s Death Wish, about felonious parking valets using car GPS devices to find and rob people’s homes while they’re enjoying a dinner out.
In Death Wish, evil valets caused Bruce Willis to go on a vigilante killing spree. In the amusingly inept Bad Samaritan from director Dean Devlin (Geostorm) — from a script by Brandon Boyce (Apt Pupil) — the burglar-valet hero discovers a truly sinister über-rich criminal.
The valet, Sean (Robert Sheehan) is a scruffy young Irishman who works with a partner Derek (Carlito Olivero) outside an Italian restaurant in Portland, Oregon. They take turns parking the cars, and occasionally robbing rich people using their GPS devices to find their homes. In his spare time, Sean aspires to be a photographer, using his cute college-student girlfriend (Canadian actress Jaqueline Byers) as a subject. The backstory feels perfunctory — like an indie movie that never got developed, before the writer decided to turn it into a cat-and-mouse thriller.
Sean’s choice of crime blends urban legend (the GPS robbers) with a modern morality tale: if you can afford a car and dinner out and pay someone to park it for you, you’re obviously making too much money. That argument is soon vindicated when a sneering one-percenter named Cale Erendreich (Robert Tennant, the Scottish actor of Dr. Who and Broadchurch fame) rolls up in his Maserati and, while never getting off his cell phone call, insults Derek’s body odour before handing over the keys. The jerk is asking for it.
Sean soon finds his way to Cale’s vast suburban home, enters easily through the garage and starts looking around the rich house, planning the score of a lifetime. When he jimmies open a locked room, he discovers some serious Silence of the Lambs action going on. A woman (Kerry Condon) has been beaten and is gagged and chained to a chair. After failing to free her, Sean flees, but not before cutting through a room, just off the garage, filled with torture equipment. In a pang of conscience, calls the police.
So far, promising, but Bad Samaritan quickly takes a hard turn into the ditch. Cale, ruthless psycho that he is, easily manages to persuade the cops that Sean is a lying nonentity (except for the usual one skeptical FBI agent). Then he declares total war on the valet, employing an arsenal of wealth, technological know-how, and needlessly elaborate and easily exposed attacks. A truly ruthless man, he even messes with the kid’s Facebook page.
A repeated flashback involving a horse, a gun, and an adolescent boy attempt to establish Cale as some sort of trust-fund-baby psycho, but diagnostic credibility is not really the goal here. It’s about Big Bad Acting. Tennant bites into, chews up, and spits out the part in a preposterous bug-eyed, short-attention-span turn which could have been inspired by Charlie Sheen in full meltdown. Arguably, only truly gifted actors can be this bad and Tennant’s turn is absurd enough to be almost fun.
Otherwise, there are a some location compensations: Bad Samaritan was shot in the downtown and suburbs of Portland, Oregon, which is an attractive grown-up city, not at all quaint like the television show Portlandia. A culminating sequence takes place in a rustic ranch house, which allows us to ogle a few of those signature Twilight shots of the highway threading through evergreen forests.
Bad Samaritan. Directed by Dean Devlin. Written by Brandon Boyce. Starring Robert Sheehan, David Tennant, Carlito Olivero, and Kerry Condon. Opens wide May 4.