A burglar breaks into a serial killer’s house in “Geostorm” director David Devlin’s “Bad Samaritan” (***1/2 OUT OF ****), but he cannot forget the bound and gagged female hostage that he encounters on the premises. Devlin and “Apt Pupil” scenarist Brandon Boyce create more than enough suspense and tension in this R-rated, cat-and-mouse quandary to keep audiences on the edge of paranoia for the film’s searing 110 minutes. Initially, you might be inclined to compare “Bad Samaritan” with “Don’t Breathe” (2016), about an ill-fated trio of rapacious teens trapped in a house with a blind man determined to kill them. They were burglars, too, and they were trying to steal the hundreds of thousands of dollars that the blind man had won from a court settlement involving the wrongful death of his daughter. While “Don’t Breathe” served up nerve-racking suspense by confining the principals in an inescapable fortress of a house, “Bad Samaritan” achieves the complete opposite. The serial killer turns our hero’s life into a nightmare without having to confine him. Indeed, the “Bad Samarian” hero discovers that all his sincere efforts to alert the police about the serial killer prove as futile as the young shepherd in Aesop’s classic fable who cried ‘wolf.’ After collaborating with director Roland Emmerich for years on blockbuster hits, such as “Universal Soldier,” “Stargate,” “Godzilla,” and “Independence Day,” Devlin went out on his own and made his big-screen, directorial debut with “Geostorm,” a far-fetched fantasy about controlling weather with a space station. Despite its myriad flaws, “Geostorm” qualified as a lot of fun, but far from the best things that Devlin did with Emmerich. Devlin maintains a realistic sense of gravity through “Bad Samaritan” with Boyce’s disturbing but down-to-earth script that allows the serial killer to manipulate the hapless burglar. The serial killer behaves like a puppeteer, and the burglar becomes his puppet. He pulls all the burglar’ strings and virtually incriminates him for his own crimes.
Sean Falco (Robert Sheehan of “Geostorm”) and Derek Sandoval (Carlito Olivero of “Blood Heist”) are best buds. They have a foolproof scheme to make millions as valets who burglarize the customers whose cars they park at a downtown Portland, Oregon, restaurant. As soon as the car keys are surrendered, one of the two cruises out to the customer’s home. Naturally, the other remains at the restaurant to watch their victims. A similar situation occurred in the recent “Death Wish” remake with Bruce Willis when the villain targeted our hero’s residence through the car’s navigation system. Not only does Derek have the run of a family residence, but the owners have also forgotten to arm their home alarm system! Derek loads up on everything he can carry until he happens upon a hostile pet Dobermann that chases him off the premises. Later, Sean parks the next car, a luxurious Maserati that belongs to a bachelor, Cale Erendreich (David Tennant of “Fright Night”), who is a guest at a dinner party. Of course, Sean believes he has hit the jackpot as he enters Erendreich’s swanky house. Rummaging through Erendreich’s mail, he stumbles onto a new credit card which hasn’t been activated. Using Erendreich’s land-line phone, Sean activates the card. Afterward, he prowls the house for other valuables and pauses in front of a door with an elaborate lock. Quickly, he unlocks the door and walks into a shadowy room with a computer. He finds Erendreich’s checkbook and snaps a photo of it with his cell phone. Sean freaks out when his smart phone flash illuminates a desperate woman with bruises on her face strapped into a nearby chair. He removes her gag, but she warns him about the surveillance camera that Erendreich has installed that is linked to his cell phone. This way Erendreich can keep tabs on her. Hopelessly out of his element, Sean abandons the woman reluctantly after he carefully restores everything in the room to its original position. He promises to contact the police. Moments later Sean returns to the restaurant, and an impatient Erendreich drives away.
Sean tells Derek about the shock of his life. Moreover, he is prepared to go to jail if he must to report the woman’s imprisonment in the house. Mind you, no matter how scrupulously Sean has cleaned up after himself, the serial killer suspects something is amiss. Sean phones the police from a pay phone. When they arrive, the persuasive Erendreich convinces the authorities nothing is wrong, and he introduces them to his date for the evening. Satisfied, the police leave, while hidden nearby in his late-model Volkswagen, Sean smolders with rage. It doesn’t take long for Erendreich to identify Sean as the burglar, and he attaches a homing device to our hero’s Volkswagen. Later, he breaks into Sean’s apartment while Sean is showering, hacks his computer, and clones his phone! Afterward, he downloads a partially nude picture Sean snapped of his girlfriend, Riley Seabrook (Jacqueline Byers of “Ordinary Days”), and sends the nude photo to everybody in one of her classes. Afterward, she vows to have nothing to do with Sean. Eventually, the clueless Sean realizes what Erendreich has done and contacts the FBI. At first, the Feds treat Sean’s claims with skepticism.
Loyal fans of the cult British sci-fi television series “Dr. Who” may have a hard time handling the tenth Dr. Who as a deranged serial killer who grew up beating horses during his youth. Nevertheless, Tennant delivers a gripping performance as a dastardly adversary. Earlier, Tennant played a villain every bit as obnoxious as his “Bad Samaritan” character in the first season of the Netflix Marvel series “Jessica Jones” where he hypnotized people to kill themselves. The actors and actresses who haven’t established themselves as names yet are the sympathetic heroes. Like the best white-knuckled suspense thrillers, “Bad Samaritan” keeps the egotistical Erendreich two steps ahead of our amateur hero until the final quarter hour. Up until that ultimate confrontation, Erendreich doesn’t overlook anything before he commits one last profoundly spontaneous error.