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Film review: Good People *

By Preston Wilder

It’s “sushi night”, an obvious euphemism. It’s actually the night when Tom (James Franco) and Anna (Kate Hudson) try to have a baby, buoyed up with wine and, presumably, sushi. “You might as well wear a T-shirt saying ‘Hi, I’m ovulating’,” quips Anna’s friend, whose own baby – Anna’s godchild – we’ve already seen our broody heroine cooing over. Sushi night seems to be going well, but then things fall apart: Tom and Anna go downstairs, find their basement tenant dead from a heroin overdose – and also, more importantly, find a bag containing £220,000 in stolen money.

The couple decide to keep the cash, which is clearly a terrible idea (Shallow Grave and A Simple Plan are other illustrations of that idea) – but they’re behind on the rent, and they need the money. Alas, the loot soon brings unwelcome visitors, ranging from haggard, cryptic cop Tom Wilkinson to sadistic gangster Sam Spruell (who likes to torture people by shoving snooker balls down their throats). There’s also ‘Genghis Khan’ (Omar Sy), whose role is a little obscure: he’s the big boss from whom the cash was originally stolen, but doesn’t seem to have any clear plan for retrieving his money or taking revenge on the thieves. “It’s all about honour with that guy,” explains Tom unhelpfully.

He and Anna are Americans in London, looking for a new start after a business gone bust and a miscarriage. They’re good people pursued by bad people in a bad, bad movie – a thriller whose idiocy is at first annoying then, intermittently, glorious. The first half keeps underlining the fact that Tom and Anna want a baby, so you naturally assume that’s going to be relevant to the plot – but in fact it makes no difference, except insofar as a baby (the aforementioned godchild) gets taken hostage at the climax. They also keep fretting that they’re going to “lose the house” and be out on the street – but in fact, as we see in the second half, they have a perfectly massive house in West London, which admittedly is being refurbished but looks fairly livable, so I don’t know why they’re even renting that tiny little flat with the dodgy tenant in the basement.

Good People starts out merely clumsy. Beware the film where every other line is exposition, and characters say things like “It’s a good thing I have a Master’s degree”. Wilkinson’s cop is especially puzzling: he’s obsessed with the case because the drugs that killed the tenant also killed his daughter – yet he focuses all his attention on Tom and Anna, who may have taken the loot but know nothing of the drugs, or the drug lord behind them. The best he can do is use them as bait, hoping the gangsters will return – but then why not keep tabs on the flat, instead of their bank accounts?

The final act ups the ante, both in violence – it plays like an adult version of Home Alone, with the baddies lured to a booby-trapped house – and ridiculousness. At one point, the script must arrange it so the gangsters don’t hear the crying baby – so it has a jumbo jet (!) flying low overhead at that precise moment, even though we hadn’t heard any planes before and don’t hear any again (actually, no: we do hear another plane – or the same one? – 50 seconds later, these being the 50 seconds every day when a quiet suburban street turns into a busy flight corridor). A little later, in the midst of a shoot-out, one of the gunmen decides to light a cigarette and have a quiet smoke – an unlikely choice, to put it mildly, awkwardly contrived so his cig can fall, set fire to some clothes and burn down the house. The film even seems uncertain what to call its heroine (she’s alternately addressed as ‘Anne’ and ‘Anna’), but I must’ve misheard that; it’s just too absurd, even for this mish-mash.

Through it all, the over-qualified cast manage to keep a straight face. Hudson, in particular, seems like she’d be better at neo-noir and crime movies (she was also quite effective in The Killer Inside Me some years ago) than her usual rom-coms; she can look very sly and intelligent when she’s keeping very still and just gazing at people. Good People could potentially cross the line from bad to so-bad-it’s-good, watched late at night on TV with a sympathetic audience – but paying money to watch it at the cinema is asking for trouble; despite the blood and gore (or because of it), these flimsy characters never begin to engage. “All we wanted was a family!” wails Tom, cradling Anne or Anna in a dingy hotel room with the gangsters coming closer. They should’ve stuck with sushi night.

 

DIRECTED BY Henrik Ruben Genz

STARRING James Franco, Kate Hudson, Tom Wilkinson

US 2014                              90 mins

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