Once upon a time, Dean Devlin had Hollywood by the balls. As half of the Roland Emmerich-Dean Devlin juggernaut, his name was synonymous with big budgets, big stars and big hits. Blockbuster followed blockbuster, from Stargate (1994) to Independence Day (1996) to Godzilla (1998). The duo looked unstoppable. Then it stopped.
Emmerich carried on making large-scale entertainments like The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and 2012 (2009). Meanwhile, Devlin made a perplexing transition to the small screen, working on series such as "Leverage" and "The Librarians."
Until the blockbuster bug bit him again, and he attempted a comeback by directing Geostorm, one of 2017's biggest flops. How totally had the filmmaker lost his touch? Warner Bros. had him booted off the set during reshoots.
Today, Devlin hasn't so much rebounded as rebooted. With Bad Samaritan, the director abandons all aspirations toward the jumbo effects-fest. Instead, he gives us the big-screen equivalent of a Lifetime movie. And even by the modest standards of that genre, this one falls short.
The formula for a Lifetime movie isn't complicated. The main ingredients are a troubled relationship, real estate porn and a psycho. My wife and I always like to see who can spot the maniac first. Though, let's face it, given the sophistication of the material, it's usually like shooting fish in a barrel.
Here, Devlin and screenwriter Brandon Boyce attempt to crossbreed The Net with The Silence of the Lambs, though that makes the film sound way more interesting than it is. Robert Sheehan plays a petty thief named Sean. He and his partner, Derek (Carlito Olivero), run a scam at the Portland, Ore., restaurant where they're valets. When a diner arrives in an expensive car, one keeps watch while the other uses its GPS to drive to the mark's home and help himself to valuables.
This works great, until Cale Erendreich (former "Doctor Who" star David Tennant) pulls up one night in a glittering Maserati. We know immediately that Cale is a dick because of the dismissive way he treats Derek. Not until Sean breaks into his swanky bachelor pad, however, do we learn he's also a serial killer. He has a torture chamber in his garage and a bloodied woman (Kerry Condon) bound and gagged in his office. Sean struggles to extricate her but runs out of time. Cale skipped dessert.
Long (107 minutes can seem like an eternity) story short, Cale figures out Sean has visited his designer lair. Instead of serially killing him, he chooses to use technology to destroy his life. He hacks into Sean's computer and texts a nude photo of Sean's girlfriend to his Facebook contacts. He somehow gets Sean's mother and stepfather fired on the same day. At one point, the evil billionaire lures Sean to his home and detonates a time bomb he's had the foresight to install.
All of which might've been good for a few trashy Lifetime-level laughs, if Tennant's performance weren't cartoonishly over the top. That Maserati might as well have a vanity plate reading PSYCHOPATH!.
Then there are Devlin's ho-hum direction and Boyce's third-rate dialogue. In the entire movie, there's exactly one decent line, and the filmmakers save it for the final five minutes. Now that's sadistic.
Bad Samaritan proves bad news both for viewers and its once-mighty director. Like Tennant, it didn't perform well, but the picture does join Devlin's early triumphs in the record books. It scored the eighth worst opening ever for a wide release. All things considered, bad doesn't begin to cover it.