Dean Devlin has cruised on a very solid and lucky career in Hollywood. Ever since he linked up with Roland Emmerich in the late 1980s, Devlin has racked up a formidable number of hit movies on his resume as a writer and a producer. Critical indifference aside, anyone with the money of Stargate, Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and….Eight Legged Freaks on his resume has certainly made an impact. Devlin has taken all this box-office goodwill and started adding “director” to his LinkedIn profile, mostly in TV shows including Leverage and The Librarians. He got a shot at writing and directing his own $120 million Hollywood blockbuster in 2014, unfortunately it took three years to make it to the screen because it was Geostorm. But maybe that wasn’t his fault, maybe the pressure of handling his own multi-million dollar movie just got the better of him and he got overwhelmed. Perhaps if he had a smaller budget and lower stakes, he could focus on his craft and make something truly special.
The Bad Samaritan of Devlin’s second directorial effort is Cale Erendreich (David Tennant), a rich playboy in Portland. One night while going to dinner, he leaves his flashy Maserati in the hands of valet/amateur photographer Sean (Robert Sheehan), who proceeds to steal his car and use it to break into his house and rob it. What the charming felon doesn’t expect is to see a woman tied up in Cale’s home under heavy surveillance. He can’t break her free, and what’s worse is that Cale knows Sean visited his luxurious prison. Now Cale is stalking Sean, breaking down every aspect of his life until he strikes his fatal blow.
Now Devlin isn’t all to blame for this limp, bland, poorly executed thriller. For one thing, he didn’t write the script chock-full of cliche dialogue and boring character exchanges. This isn’t writer Brandon Boyce’s first foray into Hitchcock knockoffs (Wicker Park), but Bad Samaritan doesn’t capitalize on its somewhat interesting setup. Any chance at trying something different with the “methodical stalker” formula is missed for cheap, unoriginal events that are obviously setup and never developed further. To its credit, it does make the 111-minute run time fly by thanks to how uneventful the dramatic moments are and how quickly they’re moved past. Devlin seems to still be in TV mode as most of Bad Samaritan looks like a TNT Original Movie thanks to its dour cinematography and generic music. He also seems to be auditioning to join Blumhouse’s rolodex of D-list directors that make the company’s hackneyed horror movies with Bad Samaritan’s jump scares and boring violence. For an R-rated movie about an obsessive psychopath, Bad Samaritan plays things surprisingly straight.
I’d also blame Devlin for being a poor director of actors because WOW does David Tennant not know what the hell he’s doing in this. The gangling but suave Scotsman has proven his acting chops time and time again before, during and well after his time in the TARDIS of Doctor Who. He seems to have picked this role up after his stellar performance as the villainous Kilgrave in Marvel’s Jessica Jones, so it’s clear that he can play a quixotic antagonist. But boy oh boy is he lost here, sporting a noticeably-phony American accent and a vaguely defined motivation. At one point Tennant thinks he’s a killer in a Hannibal Lector novel, but by the end he switches into a Bond villain doing an impression of Dr. Cox from Scrubs out of nowhere. Whether it’s bad motivation, weak lines, poor direction or all three, it’s depressing to watch an obviously gifted actor helplessly adrift in one of his few starring movie roles. There is a speckle of potential in Robert Sheehan, a charming Irish lad with a friendly grin and believable delivery when he has basic human conversation. Unfortunately that’s only the first 15 minutes of the movie before he’s given restless bags under his eyes and looks constantly out of breath.
Dean Devlin should not be directing movies. He struck out with a blockbuster and now with Bad Samaritan he can’t improve on a weak script and work with a dependable actor with minimal stakes. Calling his career success a stroke of consistent luck would be a little too mean, but it’s hard to find any sense of exciting skill from him behind the camera. As proof, the opening scene of the movie is a choppily-edited flashback of young Cale whipping and shooting a CGI horse in front of some kind of faded-out backdrop. That scene isn’t mentioned or explained until the final five minutes of the movie, so you’re left with nearly two hours of a hilariously-animated fake horse being fake whipped by a small child before he holds a gun with a face like his mom grounded him from playing Fortnite for a week. Sometimes, it’s easy to tell what you’re getting yourself into.