Written by: Thomas Berger (novel), Chris Fisher
Directed by: Chris Fisher
Starring: Luke Wilson, Samuel L. Jackson and Leslie Bibb
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Evil comes knocking.
I donít know if I can really take Samuel L. Jackson seriously in a role that requires him to be the titular evil in Meeting Evil, but itís certainly not for a lack of trying on his part. The cool, fanboy-friendly actor has such a rigid shtick these days that itís difficult to imagine him portraying evil personified, but he seems to be one of the few people actually trying in this slummy effort that can never settle on simply being a junky thriller or a parody of junky thrillers. Either way, itís junky and not at all thrilling, its modicum of intrigue (most of which is supplied by Jackson) snuffed out by turgid and dumb plotting.
Jackson is an enigmatic guy who calls himself Richie, and he shows up at Johnís (Luke Wilson,) doorstep after stalling in front of his house. Johnís a real estate agent who has had a rough day having just been fired from his job, but this doesnít stop him from indulging this total stranger who soon enlists him in a violent joyride. As Richie bombs from one location to the next leaving a trail of corpses in his wake, John wonders just exactly what heís gotten himself intoÖand if he can get out of it.
First and foremost, heís stuck in a bad movie. Meeting Evil is the worst kind of nonsense you can imagine--the type that features a cool concept whose script and direction drag everything--including a good set of performers--down to the depths of utter banality. It should be a B-movie masquerading as an A-movie, but, in reality, itís just a Z-grade knock-off that faintly echoes a bunch of better movies that came before it. Jacksonís character is playing a psychopath out of the John Doe or Jigsaw mode--the megalomaniac with some sort of twisted set of morals, only, in this case, itís also a vague set as well. Richie occasionally goads John about his white-bread complacency and his transgressions (it turns out heís been carrying out an affair with a co-worker).
In fact, Jacksonís presence in general is just vague; thereís something a little preternatural about Richie, as if he were the devil incarnate in his ability to compel those around him to go along with his schemes. There are plenty of times when it seems like John could just be rid of him rather easily, but he sticks around, so I guess Richieís greatest power is surrounding himself with half-wits who are slow on the uptake. You almost wish there were a supernatural slant to explain all of this, especially since itíd be the one thing that could possibly make a little bit of sense. Instead, it dangles this and other possibilities in a wrong-headed attempt to also be a police procedural, as Tracie Thoms and Muse Watson (unlikely cop duo or most unlikely cop duo?) attempt to make sense of the killing spree thatís ravaged their jurisdiction. Watson is an illogically gruff asshole who is convinced John himself is perpetrating the murders out of frustration and has created Richie as a schizoid delusion to compensate for his failures. Thatíd be an interesting angle--if the film didnít go out of its way to prove that Richie obviously exists since he has entire scenes where he interacts with people besides John.
The script piles on more absurdities and lends itself to some memorably off-kilter and bad scenes, such as the one where Thoms (in cartoonish sassy black woman mode) questions Johnís wife (Leslie Bibb), a laughably bad exchange that sees the latter threaten the former before making her the butt of a couple of fat jokes that make no sense given Thoms anatomy. Other weirdness abounds--thereís a weird girl skulking around the neighborhood with her dog that gets multiple instances of screen time for no apparent reason, and the entire movie has this weird noir vibe that would work out pretty well if it were attached to a film that didnít require every character to be staggeringly stupid for its plot mechanics to work. Consider how Johnís wife lets Richie waltz right through her front door after sheís no doubt heard her husbandís hellish ordeal; the film does offer an explanation for this (and Richieís existence in general) but soon reneges on it in favor of cheap ambiguity that somehow renders the film more hollow and pointless than it already was.
To his credit, Jackson is at least relishing the role as a raging lunatic; Iíd say itís nice to see him taking on more of an antagonist role, but he brings usual cool, cocky presence, and it just so happens that heís applying it to a character that terrorizes everyone: store clerks, old ladies, kids, all of whom end up as corpses. Oddly enough, we never see him actually commit many murders--instead heíll lead John to a place where everyone eventually turns up dead, all the while shifting his eyes and practically mugging for the camera. As such, heís much more interesting than anyone around him, as just about everyone seems to wonder how their careers have come to this point. Director Chris Fisher tries to compensate for the filmís many shortcomings by overindulging faux stylistic techniques that only serve to overcook this bland thriller whose pulpy plot twists never bring the film to a boil. Instead, it just barely simmers before stagnating as a puddle of drivel. Despite its star power, the film went straight to DVD, where it will be released by Sony on July 24th; with the exception of some previews, itís a bare bones effort, though the presentation is solid enough (in fact, the sound might be a little too immersive at times as one scene featured a grating noise in the background for long stretches). Should you meet this on a rental shelf, it might be a decent time-waster, but thereís maybe 100 movies in Sam Jacksonís massive filmography worth checking out first. Rent it!
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