Luke Wilson has never been an actor known to try, but he deserves a better fate than Meeting Evil, an aggressively nonsensical horror-thriller thing that’s not entitled to any Wilson brother, let alone an Oscar nominee. Wilson plays John, an impossibly slow-on-the-uptake real-estate agent who is abruptly beset upon by Richie, a mysterious stranger played by Samuel L. Jackson. Through a series of transparently suspect means, Richie entreats John to join him on a joy ride that routinely reveals him to be a sadistic psycho. Even after Richie mows down a trucker with his car, John proves unwilling to ID him as some hellspawn out to, at the very least, peg him with his own heinous crimes.
What does this [blank]-from-hell monstrosity, which by all means should have starred James Van Der Beek and premiered on Hulu, have to do with the Arthur Penn-Dustin Hoffman anti-western classic Little Big Man? Both films were culled from novels by Thomas Berger, a Pulitzer finalist whose work also begat the John Belushi vehicle Neighbors. The current edition of Meeting Evil even comes with a breathless introduction from no less than Jonathan Lethem, jealous of newbies first able to relish the visceral machinations of Berger’s “contraption.”
Whatever heady thrills this 1992 novel possesses have been turned into DTV-worthy mush, thanks to writer-director Chris Fisher. Last in the news, thanks to helming the un-asked-for, un-seen Donnie Darko sequel S. Darko, he’s the kind of filmmaker who attempts a mood piece by shooting in bland TV lighting, and still thinks it’s striking to stage a shot from within a mailbox. His clumsy, Uwe Boll-esque staging has a nasty habit of turning an entire cast of professionals, also including Leslie Bibb and Death Proof’s Tracie Thoms, into screen-presence-lacking amateurs.
Everyone, that is, except for Jackson, who has been overachieved in undeserving projects since he played a stick-up thief in Coming to America. Granted, he’s never had to muster credibility with material this obviously rank. Well, Sphere, maybe. Sure enough, Meeting Evil is the kind of dreck that builds to a brazenly contradictory twist, and one meant to send people who don’t think, thinking their way out of the theater. It could be called pretentious, if it weren’t too dumb to be pretentious.
2014 Films: The Year’s Most Likely