More and more these days, major movie stars are compelled to appear in low-budget independent projects because they want to flex their acting muscles — something that higher paying Hollywood productions often don’t allow them to do. As a viewer, I await these occasions because they show you what an actor is really capable of, unhinged by the constraints of the studio system.
When I turned on “Meeting Evil”, a tiny movie currently playing a handful of art-houses and on video on-demand, I was ready to be engaged by Samuel L. Jackson and Luke Wilson, because this appeared to be the perfect illustration of the above scenario — a film for which the actors took a big pay-cut to be involved in a project they believed in.
As it turns out, watching how exactly filmmaker Chris Fisher convinced Jackson and Wilson to be in “Meeting Evil” would have been a lot more interesting than watching “Meeting Evil” itself. This is an amateur B-movie in every sense, with laughable writing and poor production-value. Jackson and Wilson have participated in many a bad Hollywood film for the paycheck, but what could have possibly compelled them to participate in this indie embarrassment?
The premise reeks of basic cable. Wilson plays John, a real estate agent who has just been fired, making his ongoing personal crisis–his family’s home is in foreclosure and his marriage is on the rocks due to his infidelity–go from bad to worse. Basically, the movie employs any trivial illustration of a down-and-out middle-aged man that it can.
In spite of his troubles, John tries to keep his good guy face on when another man in need lands on his doorstep — Richie’s (Samuel L. Jackson) car broke down and requires a push. John’s intelligence does not measure up to the audience’s when he fails to realize that Richie’s egregious gangster outfit, complete with fedora, foreshadows that he is up to no good.
Following a series of improbable events that land John injured in Richie’s custody–without a wallet or cell-phone, of course–John realizes that this was not the day to play good samaritan. It turns out that Richie is a murderous psychopath–evil incarnate, as the title would suggest–and that his family’s lives are now in danger. None of it makes a lick of sense and there is clearly a big twist in the works, but the movie is so low-rent that we never care to figure it out.
From the earliest shots, it’s clear that director Fisher and cinematographer Marvin V. Rush, whose previous collaborations include the direct-to-video sequels “S. Darko” and “Street Kings 2: Motor City,” think highly of their filmmaking abilities — a hubris that results in a painfully self-indulgent style. Take an early shot after Wilson parks his car, for instance — they cut to the trunk, then inexplicably linger on the model-number (325i) and slowly pan over the body, for no apparent reason other than that it looks cool. Fisher and Rush seem more interested in proving their chops than telling their story unobtrusively — a tactic which ironically makes it seem like they don’t have any chops.
Given that the plot itself is generic pulp–the source novel has likely found a permanent place in the Crown Books bargain bin–one would expect some level of metaphor or symbolism to help sustain the piece. In fact, the ominous title suggests a spiritual element. But in actuality, the movie has little to say — Fisher thinks that Jackson wreaking havoc on the rest of the cast is enough to satiate viewers, a sorry assumption.
Speaking of Jackson, he’s fine here — but without an apparent motive for his evil deeds (or a willingness in the audience to invent one), Richie is nowhere near as menacing a character as he should be. We’ve seen Jackson play plenty of crazy dudes in the past–in fact, this one is pretty much a cheap hybrid of “Lakeview Terrace”’s Abel Turner and “Jackie Brown”’s Ordell Robbie–so there’s no need to see the film for him. Co-stars Wilson and Leslie Bibb, who plays John’s wife, are equally unremarkable.
Alas, the only reason to see “Meeting Evil” is because it must be seen to be believed that Jackson and Wilson would slum this low, with so little apparent financial upside. If you’re actually interested in a compelling film and not just shits and giggles, however, you should stay far, far away from this one.
“Meeting Evil” is now available in select theaters and on Amazon Instant Video.