When Montreal became a B-movie star

Our series exploring Montreal-shot films continues with action flick No Good Deed starring Milla Jovovich and Samuel L. Jackson.


Milla Jovovich and Samuel L. Jackson in No Good Deed

Alex Rose’s Made in MTL is a series exploring films from the vaults shot and/or set in Montreal.

The Film: No Good Deed (2002)

Does Montreal play itself?: There’s so much contradictory information that I’m going to have to say no. Most of the licence plates we see are American, but there’s talk of someone living “on the other side of the mountain” and the last third (which basically consists of a getaway) has the protagonists trying to go through the border in Sudbury to get to Albany. Of course, on the way there, they cross paths with an OPP officer, which leads me to believe that there’s really no way I’m going to figure this out satisfactorily. Let’s just say it’s set somewhere between Montreal, Sault Ste. Marie, New York City and Chibougamau.

Notable local talent: Since this is a pretty self-contained movie with few excursions into the world, there aren’t many supporting characters of any import. About half of the local cast in the credits can be spotted in the sequence where Jackson first interrogates neighbours; character actor mainstays like Francis X. McCarthy and Larry Day pop up briefly as a bank manager and customs officer, respectively.

Most egregious local landmark: A great deal of the movie is spent in the house, which appears to be somewhere in NDG based on the surroundings. There’s an insert shot of Mommy’s Fish ‘n Chips in Lachine, but Google tells me there was also one in Verdun once upon a time (either way the facades have changed since). Needless to say, the bank that is robbed is nestled somewhere south of Ste-Catherine — it’s on Square Victoria this time around.

The early 2000s are often seen as a booming period in Montreal’s film production history thanks to big and prestigious projects like Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and The Sum of All Fears electing to do part (or all) of their shooting here. It’s also worth noting that Montreal was actually coming out of an even busier (but significantly sketchier) period where dozens upon dozens of B-movies starring the likes of Dolph Lundgren and Gary Busey were shot in the city, destined for cut-rate releases in foreign markets and almost immediate obscurity. Bob Rafelson’s No Good Deed falls somewhere in the middle: it’s a silly bit of mid-budget pulp that nonetheless features then-hot stars Samuel L. Jackson and Milla Jovovich as well as major talent behind the camera in the form of the perennially unlucky, spottily-employed Rafelson (creator of the Monkees and director of one of the best films of the ’70s, Five Easy Pieces). No Good Deed may have sounded like major news through the grapevine in 2002 with its A-list stars being spotted hobnobbing about, but its DOA release has more or less relegated it to obscurity since.

Jackson plays a diabetic, cello-playing cop who accepts the task of looking for a neighbour’s runaway daughter, armed with only a picture of the man she ran off with and a vague idea that he may live on Turk Street. While investigating on the premises, he notices an old lady (Grace Zabriskie) slip and fall. After helping her, he is introduced to her husband (Joss Ackland) and is immediately knocked out and tied to a chair.

It turns out that Jackson has mistakenly stumbled onto the hideout of a nefarious criminal gang led by the bafflingly-accented Tyrone (Stellan Skarsgard, not exactly the first name that comes to mind when casting a guy named Tyrone), his sexy girlfriend Erin (Jovovich) and bleached-blonde psychopath Hoop (Doug Hutchison, probably best known these days for being the 50-year-old guy who married 16-year-old Christian sex android Courtney Stodden). Hoop looks a lot like the guy Jackson’s actually looking for, so the criminals decide they’re better off keeping him out of commission (and tangled up with slinky vamp Erin) while they go about their business.

It progresses rather strangely for what amounts to little else than a typically B-grade neo-noir (it’s based on a short story by Dashiell Hammett), with the two leads stowed away at the house in a game of cat-and-mouse while the would-be action (a bank heist that happens exclusively through electronic transfer) happens almost as an afterthought. It eventually boils down to a familiar who’s-getting-the-money scenario with a shootout at the border, but there are enough atypical elements here to keep the attention (the geriatric bank robbers are a particularly original touch, though they’re mostly relegated to the background for much of the film). Rafelson is obviously trying to steer the film away from its more familiar elements but the result is more disjointed than original. You can’t really predict what’ll happen, which is a good thing, but you can’t really parse why anything is happening either.

It’s along the same lines as previous Made in MTL entries Swindle and One Way Out, rehashing familiar crime tropes around NDG and Square Victoria and comprising mainly of actors yelling things about changes of plans and getting out of the country pronto. The only thing variable is the caliber of the actors, which is surprisingly high for such an unassuming production. Jovovich actually brings depth to a fairly standard femme-fatale-playing-all-sides role and Jackson proves he can still do his thing tied to a chair for 80 per cent of a movie. They do most of the heavy lifting required to separate this from a similar turd that would star Erika Eleniak and Michael Madsen, but unfortunately they don’t carry it far enough for this to be much more than bog-standard. ■

Alex Rose explores the worst of cinema on his podcast and blog, Why Does It Exist? @whydoesitblog on Twitter

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