Roger Ebert, in his review of the forgotten thriller Narrow Margin, popularised the term Idiot Plot to refer to any film which only works because its plot relies on every character being an idiot. Since then it’s been thrown around a lot, often without consideration of certain subgenres whose point is the Idiot Plot; for instance, that old story about characters scrambling for control of some ill-gotten treasure and ending up dead from their impetuousness and lack of trust. For its origins it reaches back to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and in modern years has shown up as Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, The Coen Brothers’ Fargo and Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan, to name a few. But where Tarantino’s, Raimi’s, and the Coens’ films are bloody black comedies, Good People, the first Hollywood feature from Danish director Henrik Ruben Genz, takes this story and plays it dead straight.
Kate Hudson and James Franco are beautiful people from America struggling to make ends meet in London, which is grey, rainy, and full of ugly people. One of these ugly people is the tenant in their basement, who dies and leaves a bag full of cash. So of course they start dipping into it; Franco because of all the money he’s already sunk into renovating the West London mansion he’s inherited, and Hudson because she wants a baby but needs IVF. I can believe that Hudson needs the money because she can’t get it on the NHS – bloody austerity! – but Franco honestly seems to be piss-poor at renovating things. Honestly, prime real estate like that would sell for upwards of a million in London, just hire someone who’s better at their job than you to fix it up. I think their plan was to sell their own house in Stoke Newington and permanently move into the mansion, but that’s just implausible; who in their right mind would move from North London to West London?
But it isn’t all house prices and miserable politics because, shockingly, the duffel bag full of cash turns out to belong to some gangsters who, equally shockingly, want it back. But – and this is where it gets shocking – since the couple are already in over their heads, they decide to defy the gangsters and then they go and make a deal with a very scary French gangster who thinks he’s Genghis Khan and all the while the sympathetic detective’s on their case. In the end they go all Skyfall and decide to make a last stand at the mansion, which means lots of fun with spike pits and nail guns.
The film is entertaining enough, with certain sequences handled with a real flair – a snooker table is used for a grit-your-teeth torture sequence, and there’s a nice bit of business at the pond in Hyde Park. Genz also puts the camera in the driver’s seat for one long-take, Drive-inspired botched robbery, capturing a moment of grisly humour as the wipers smear blood across the entire windscreen. There’s some lovely casting of the non-American characters, too, with an appropriately regal Omar Sy as Genghis Khan and the dependably awesome Tom Wilkinson as the man-of-steel detective. Probably the film has more elements in its favour than working against it, but still it never manages to rise above the level of disposability. Its primary weakness is a script that honestly seems better suited to a television movie than a glossy thriller.
Good People is available in the UK from the 5th of October on DVD and Blu-ray from Lionsgate.