There are some actors that aren’t quite on the A-list where they get to headline a lot of movies, and yet they’re so consistently good that even when they’re in a mediocre film you can expect a good performance out of them. Lou Diamond Phillips is one such actor, so when I saw that he was the star of the 2002 film Malevolent I was interested in checking it out, and wondered why I hadn’t heard of it before now. As it turns out, it looks like it was released direct-to-video, and after watching it, I can see why. Malevolent is one of those films where it seems like everything came together except for one key element; in this case, the writing. Of course, I’m not willing to put the entirety of the blame on writers Dennis Shryack and Peter Bellwood; a director always has the option to make a few changes to the script on the fly, and a few decisive edits from director John Terlesky would have addressed my biggest concerns here.
Phillips stars as Jack Lucas, an L.A. homicide detective with a hefty assortment of personal problems. His own mother was murdered a few years prior, he suffers from constant insomnia, and he’s under investigation due to his former partner being involved with a drug gang. And after someone drugs him at a bar, he finds himself engaged in a bizarre game of cat-and-mouse with a serial killer who seems to have a vendetta against him.
All this could have been resolved immediately had he just shot him on sight, which should be S.O.P. for people with that smug demeanor.
The psycho messing with Jack with Ollie Chadwicke (Edoardo Ballerini), and while his motives are unclear for the majority of the film, it’s more of a whydunnit than a whodunnit; the fact that it’s him messing with Lucas is apparent from their first meeting when we see him drug Jack’s drink while Jack takes a phone call. This illustrates one of the basic problems with the plot… Jack Lucas is not as properly paranoid as a homicide detective ought to be. Leaving his drink unattended with a stranger may be the sort of thing they warn college sorority girls about more than police detectives, but it’s still a bit careless. And it sets up a more stupid decision on Lucas’s part. Ollie steals Jack’s gun and some other property while he’s out, and Jack doesn’t report it as policy in probably every department requires. Losing your gun may get you a severe dressing down from the captain, but it’s nowhere near as bad as losing it and not reporting it missing. And as Ollie uses the gun and other items to implicate Jack in the crimes he’s committing, the whole plot is dependent on Jack having done something that goes directly against policy. Put simply, the plot relies on Jack being stupid, and that’s a problem when, as with most crime films, the audience’s sympathies and the resolution of the plot rely on Jack being smart.
It’s a real shame, because this flaw holds back what is otherwise a pretty good movie. Lou Diamond Phillips is, as usual, a solid actor and Jack Lucas is (dumb decisions aside) a reasonably compelling character. Ballerini’s portrayal of Ollie is smarmy and slimy and very convincing as a smug, self-assured sociopath. The two play off of each other well, and the plot works well other than its reliance on Jack being dumb enough to withhold information from his boss and his new partner. The way the film portrays those other cops, it’s unlikely that he would have been in any significant trouble at all if he had just come clean from the beginning; his boss (Steven Bauer) seems to be a reasonable authority figure, and his partner (Gwen McGee) already trusts him enough to give him plenty of leeway. The whole thing would fall apart if Jack just spilled the beans, and Ollie even calls attention to this when he expresses surprise at how “cooperative” Jack is being.
“Hello? Yes, I’ll endanger myself, my livelihood, and everybody around me for no particular reason.”
Also thrown into the mix is Kari Wuhrer as Jessica, a pole dancer that Ollie has been stalking. She exists primarily to provide a quasi-love interest for Jack — the only intersection between their plots is Ollie himself, who seems to be playing two games at once — and to provide someone for Jack to exchange exposition with. Wuhrer is a good actress, and there’s enough chemistry to make her trust and growing friendship with Jack believable, but not quite enough for the constant speculation from his fellow officers that she’s “the reason for those bags under [his] eyes”.
In the end, Malevolent falls just short of having enough of the pieces to make a really good crime thriller. It has a good lead character, a good romantic lead, and a good villain… but it doesn’t quite succeed at selling the plot elements that draw these characters together. It’s just good enough to make it possible to see how it could have been better.