Good People might have been better titled Dumb People, or at least People Who Have Never Seen A Movie In Their Entire Lives. Just as the horror film gradually had to evolve, allowing characters enough self-awareness to avoid blatantly suicidal actions (e.g., walking alone into a dark room tentatively calling “Hello?”), thrillers need to stop dropping bags of money into the laps of law-abiding citizens who decide that, what the hell, they’re just going to keep it, because, really, what are the odds that homicidal criminals are looking for it? How could anything possibly go wrong? Indeed, the scariest scene in Good People involves a visit to a fertility clinic, raising the threat that these two cretins might pass on their terrible instincts to another generation.
Okay, so they are desperate. Tom and Anna Wright (James Franco and Kate Hudson), Americans who’ve moved to London after inheriting a crumbling old house they hope to renovate, are so behind on their mortgage that they’ve been served with an eviction notice; unless they make a sizable payment within a week, they lose everything they possess. In an attempt to make ends meet, they’ve been renting a room in their basement to some random dude, unaware that he’s planning a robbery. When he conveniently dies of a heroin overdose after double-crossing his partners, Tom and Anna find a duffel bag in his room containing some £220,000; Tom wants to wait a week before spending any of it, just to be safe, but the “more sensible” Anna insists that they wait… two weeks. Doesn’t much matter, since a suspicious cop (Tom Wilkinson), the drug dealer who was ripped off (Omar Sy), and—worst of all—the dead man’s extremely pissed-off confederate (Sam Spruell) all show up almost immediately. Run, good people, run!
Adapted by Kelly Masterson (Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead) from Marcus Sakey’s novel, and directed by Danish filmmaker Henrik Ruben Genz (Terribly Happy), who’s working in English for the first time, Good People utterly fails to transcend its generic scenario, coming up woefully short in both visual style and inventive plotting. Nor does the cast compensate: Franco and Hudson work so hard to be ordinary that they cross the line into dull, while Wilkinson does his best to Columbo it up, asking pointed questions to which he pretends not to know the answers. The film relies on Spruell to generate tension, but he’s stuck playing one of those ludicrously creative killers who exist only in lame thrillers—the kind who tortures a guy by jamming a pool ball in his mouth and then repeatedly firing a cue ball at him from across the table. By the time Good People arrives at its extended climax—set at the Wrights’ still-being-renovated house, which they’ve turned into a booby trap that’s like Home Alone as designed by Jigsaw—it’s left any semblance of reality far behind. Where’s Jamie Kennedy to explain this stuff when you need him?