One of the pleasures of watching a 21st-century neo-noir is tracking the progressive shorthand of the genre. Drawing on 60-plus years of formulaic precedent, contemporary noirists can, in a few well-placed nods, establish a cinematic world of the sort Billy Wilder had to build from the ground up, then devote him- or herself to bringing new things to the world. This power of precedent in noir allows an unusually wide playfield for reinterpretation, a fact that makes The Samaritan a veritable case study in noir failure.
Directed by David Weaver from a script cowritten with Elan Mastai, The Samaritan follows a just-released convict (Samuel L. Jackson) as he strives to rebuild his life and finds himself besieged by the hoariest collection of noir dangers, temptations, and tricks this side of the still-unreleased Naked Gun 5: Noir It's Personal. Rather than drawing on precedent, Weaver seems never to have seen an actual film noir before. Instead, he shoves his stereotypes through a minefield of clichés presented with the deepest seriousness via soap opera–quality dialogue. This is a film that finds time for two separate scenes involving the lines "Listen to me!" "No, YOU listen to ME!" but never manages to make clear the basic mechanics of the criminal grift driving the entire enterprise.
Samuel L. Jackson and Ruth Negga deploy their considerable charm, and the whole film is gorgeously shot, but the screenplay around which all this skill and talent orbits is an ostentatious turd. By the end of The Samaritan, you'll be pointing at the screen and laughing. But who am I kidding? You're not going to see The Samaritan. You're going to forget it exists until some lazy Saturday when you find it on TNT, when you should most definitely watch it. It's that bad.