Remember back in the 1990s and early aughts when James Patterson/John Grisham/Stephen King adaptations littered the movie landscape for as far as the eye could see? Ashley Judd was the land's reigning warrior princess, stalking serial killers and bringing philandering, fraudster husbands to justice. Those were fun times, when world-class actors were thrown into outrageous melodramatic roles and directors could float implausible conspiracy premises on moody atmospheres and committed performances.
Dean Devlin, the director of Geostorm and the co-producer of Independence Day, seems to be attempting to usher in a renaissance of that era. His uneven new thriller Bad Samaritan -- with its title sounding very Grisham -- tells the story of a low-level thief who breaks into a fancy-schmancy house and discovers a woman being held captive in a plastic-lined, camera-surveilled room. The homeowner proves to be a psychopath -- who is also obsessed with horses. When the thief attempts to bring this criminal to justice, the usual game of cat and mouse ensues. But there's frightfully little atmosphere to this film -- anything from creepy sound design to evocative cinematography -- rendering the flaws in the story all too visible.
Riley (Jacqueline Byers), the hero, seems to be an afterthought, but the villain, Cale (David Tennant), has been given the weirdest, most elaborate and unnecessary backstory to justify his madness and violence. I won't give it away, but suffice to say there is an awkward horse statue jammed into the production design of every room in Cale's house and cabin. In some ways, Bad Samaritan is like Equus meets Don't Breathe, but that's giving it too much credit, considering the relative tameness of its action and dialogue.