I’ve a confession to make as I attempt to review Bad Samaritan—I love David Tennant. I’m a hard core Whovian and David Tennant is “my” Doctor. In fact, I enjoyed him so much that I wanted to see Tennant in other things, like Gracepoint/Broadchurch, and Jessica Jones, where I very much enjoyed him playing Kilgrave—a very dark, very different role than I was used to for him. I started hearing that he’d be playing a serial killer in Bad Samaritan and I got excited, because I knew that someone with as much range and talent as Tennant could present a truly terrifying on-screen presence that would drive even a mediocre movie to higher ground. Unfortunately, I was wrong, and instead, even an extremely talented actor like Tennant was bogged down by a film that lacks depth, originality and developed characters.
The film opens on a vignette that I can only describe as a twee love story. Robert Sheehan plays Sean Falco, the dashing but down-on-his-luck Irish art photographer, and Jacqueline Byers is the beautiful girlfriend who’s under her dad’s thumb. Cut to an entirely predictable “You’re so beautiful in this light, let me take a picture” and her shy resistance, which of course, turns into agreement. I mention this entirely forgettable and wholly obvious moment because it sets the tone for the rest of the film, which is so full of crime genre tropes I feel like it may have been written after Brandon Boyce, who’s responsible for the film’s screenplay, binge watched a little too much CSI, NCIS and Criminal Minds before bed and written the film after the resulting fever dream.
It’s not as if the concept is that bad. Sheehan and his buddy Derek, played by Carlito Olivero, can’t make ends meet in their job as valets at an Italian restaurant in downtown Portland, Oregon where the film is set. So they turn to larceny, boosting items their customers won’t miss from their cars, and, if the poor patrons live close enough, breaking into their homes while they finish their endless pasta bowls. They’re surprisingly competent at stealing jewelry, lifting gift cards and getting into people’s computers to steal their important passwords. Before long, the big score shows up—David Tennant, the American asshole rich guy “Cale Erendreich,” in a shiny, growly Maserati. He snarls and condescends and, in his unintentionally alarming American accent, snaps at the boys that they’d “better not touch anything in his fucking car.”
But of course, the game is on, and the boys foolishly take the bait. Sean ends up at Cale’s house, looking for things he can steal amongst the myriad horse statues, photographs and other heavy-handed prop decorations telling you “something ain’t right” about this guy as the audience tags along on the heist. One thing that Bad Samaritan does fairly well is build tension. If you’d read anything about the movie before you went, you’ll know that Tennant’s a serial killer and somehow Sean’s character gets involved, so I kept waiting for him to find a body or something truly terrible. Throughout that first foray into Erendreich’s home, I was waiting for it to happen, but even expecting it, I was surprised when a light switched on and there she was—Kerry Condon as Katie, bound in horse leathers, a bit stuffed in her mouth. Sean is, of course, terrified, and has no idea what to do. He attempts to rescue her, but after discovering the Dexter style kill room in the basement, decides to leave. This act is what earns him the title “bad samaritan” and will be the driving force of the movie from there on out.
It’s a shame for there to be any bright points in the movie, since they’re almost always ruined shortly thereafter. Sean tries to call the police, but Cale pulls one over on him, somehow convincing the police he and his girlfriend were getting a little loud. He tries to break in again, but Cale’s one step ahead of them, tricking them into breaking into the wrong apartment while he absconds with his prey. Cut to a strange sequence in which we find out more about his horse fetish, as he corrals Katie and explains the pyramid of her training, and we get a tiny glimpse of a baby serial killer in the making where bad things are happening to/with a horse. She gets a collar, he gets to drone on about the steps to perfection and freedom, and we get to feel grossed out by it all.
I can’t put too much fault on David Tennant, though, because he certainly achieves that cold, unfeeling, creepy nature that’ll unsettle you. He’s careful, broken, obsessed and very, very disturbed, and can show you that with barely a word. Unfortunately, his spell is broken with bad dialogue and the confounding choice made by Director Dean Devlin to enforce an American accent. As much as I genuinely admire Tennant’s acting talent, his American accent never manages to settle in to one regional sound, and its everchanging nature can easily take you out of the moment. In a film where the main character is an Irish immigrant living in America, I don’t know why it would have been so hard to let the actor’s natural Scottish brogue shine through.
Sean is plagued by guilt and wants to turn himself in, but his buddy Derek “can’t go to prison! They’ll kill me!” In another sequence lifted from every crime show ever, Sean’s harassed by the police, who can’t be bothered to look into things, and after some hand-wringing, heads to the FBI, where again, no one takes him seriously, save for one scrappy agent who has a theory she won’t let go of. It pains me to write it as much as it pained me to see it. Meanwhile, Cale’s caught on to Sean and is hell-bent on ruining his life. What better tool than Facebook? After breaking into Sean’s filthy photographer tenement and stealing his password, Cale begins to break apart his life, first by ending his relationship. His college girlfriend seems to have landed at the only university where everyone knows each other’s numbers and are Facebook friends, allowing that “Everyone’s laughing at you” moment to come to fruition, almost immediately followed by the cliché “You’re in my prison now” taunt Cale delivers to Sean.
It’s really from this point on that the film devolves even further, into a combination of every crime show trope you can think of and a whole lot of cell phone cleverness on the part of both Sean and Cale, leading me to feel like the true message of the movie was “There’s an app for that.” The rest of the film was a blur, as we sort of find out why Tennant’s character is so rich and so, so bad.(Surprise! Some random childhood trauma combined with parental neglect!) It seems like the longer the film goes, the more it falls apart, with everything from Kerry Condon’s melodramatic line delivery to an exchange between the scrappy FBI woman with the hunch to her superior that I word-for-word recited before they said it. I won’t spoiler how it ends, but suffice it to say you may well roll your eyes so hard you’ll need an ophthalmologist. In truth, all of Bad Samaritan is a spoiler of a different nature—squandering the story’s concept, which I think, could be successful in other hands, and squandering the talent of actors like Tennant by dumbing down his acting skills with an underdeveloped character and cheap, trite dialogue. No matter how much you like Tennant, there’s no saving this film, and if you do go it’s likely you’ll be wishing for a TARDIS ride back in time to change your mind once it’s over.