Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 20, 2012)
If you want to find the definition of a movie that underwent a limited release, look no further than 2012’s Meeting Evil. According to Box Office Mojo, it opened May 4 – on one screen.
Where it earned a grand total of $575.
Wow. I’d guess that the studio needed to play the movie somewhere as part of a contractual obligation, but even so, you’d think a film with Samuel L. Jackson and Luke Wilson could’ve sold more than the equivalent of about 57 tickets, wouldn’t you?
Real estate agent John Felton (Wilson) finds himself on hard times, as he can’t sell any houses and he gets fired. That leads his family into tough economic straits, as they’re low on funds – and wind up with their own home under foreclosure.
Into this situation steps Richie (Jackson), a stranger who claims his car conked out in front of John’s house. He asks for a push, and John complies, though the circumstance turns out not to be so simple. Richie really just wants an excuse to take John on a ride that leads to bloodshed and mayhem along the way. We follow John’s journey as he attempts to deal with the psychopathic Richie.
Two movies doesn’t make a trend, but I find it interesting that Evil represents the second flick I’ve seen recently that deals with the repercussions of bad manners. In God Bless America, we saw a pair of serial killers who murdered those who they viewed as rude. Evil takes on a somewhat similar theme, as Richie’s craziness largely connects to those who he deems to be insufficiently polite.
Bless lost major points due to its over the top political agenda. That’s not an issue with Evil; it tries to be more of a straight thriller and lacks the other movie’s obvious social commentary.
Which makes me like it a bit more, but Evil still comes with plenty of its own flaws. Its main problem comes from its many, many lapses of logic. John seems stupidly willing to go off with a total stranger – and a stranger who comes across as nuts from minute one. Richie never presents as a likable loony – he’s such a weirdo that we immediately regard John as a dope. Who in their right mind would follow merrily along with someone as obviously batty as Richie?
Someone in a movie, I guess, but real life doesn’t work quite the same way. I get that Evil does attempt its own theme; as mentioned, the concept of civility becomes a running thread, as Richie’s victims tend to be those who don’t treat him with the politeness he demands. On the other side, John’s behavior can be seen as an outgrowth of a part of society that’d perform stupid acts – like going on a drive with a clearly unhinged stranger – rather than behave discourteously.
If Evil had any real point or anywhere to go with these notions, it might’ve been more interesting. As it stands, however, the theme acts as a vague backdrop but nothing more. The movie may pretend to offer this commentary on civility, but it really just wants to be a violent thriller.
Which it is – though not a well-made one. I don’t know the budget on Evil, but despite the name actors in the cast, it looks and sounds cheap. It comes across like something made for low rent cable. Shot on video, the film offers tacky visuals and the score feels like something the composer did on his home synthesizer over a rushed weekend. Overall production values give the project an aura that shouts “warning – this is low-budget TV fodder!”
In addition to the cheap look, Evil lacks a clear narrative. It never makes much about the harrowing journey clear, and it makes storytelling mistakes along the way.
Most of these come from its occasional glimpses of the trail left in Richie’s wake. While these moments offer some mildly interesting information, they disrupt the movie's mood. It would work better if it focused entirely on John’s point of view; that would give it a dark, claustrophobic feel and stick the audience in John’s situation. When the flick leaves John’s circumstances, it gives the viewer a breather that deflates the atmosphere.
I’m not sure how Jackson and Wilson ended up in such a project. Maybe the producers blew all their money on those two and that’s why everything else about it seems so low rent. Whatever the case, they seem out of place, as without them, Evil would provide anonymous basic cable fare.
Wilson may sense that and downgrade his performance. Granted, he doesn’t seem particularly well-cast in the first place; he works best in comedies and doesn’t appear to have the range to play John’s tormented side. The combination of miscast actor and bad material results in a thoroughly bland, awkward turn from Wilson.
On the other hand, Jackson shows a pulse. Of course, he’s played characters like this so often that he could’ve done Evil in his sleep – and he might’ve - but he still adds an actual spark of life to the proceedings. I suspect that Jackson has made enough cheesy stinkers to know one when he sees one. While Wilson looks a bit embarrassed to be here, Jackson greets the circumstances with gusto and delivers scenery-chewing acting from start to finish. Does this result in a good performance? Not really, but at least Jackson’s over the top demeanor keeps us awake.
That’s no small task in a movie as random and often pointless as Evil. Jackson’s hamminess might actually distract the viewer from the film’s inherent absurdity and stupidity – but not often to turn this into an entertaining film.