RATING |

Meeting Evil

*1/2

Directed by Chris Fisher. With Luke Wilson, Samuel L. Jackson, Leslie Bibb, Peyton List. Distributed by Magnet Releasing. 1 hr. 29 R (violence, profanity, adult themes) Playing at: Ritz East.

"Don't mistake my kindness for weakness," Luke Wilson warns Samuel L. Jackson in the laugh-out-loud bad Meeting Evil.

"What should I mistake it for?" Jackson asks back, shooting a cold, dark glare that's supposed to be full of menace, but is really full of the account numbers to his bank book.

Meeting Evil has been adapted from the novel by Thomas Berger. It's a mortgage-crisis nightmare noir that could have been pulpy fun, but Chris Fisher, a heavy-handed writer/director if ever there was one, misses just about every opportunity for irony, or subtlety, or cool. You could argue that the cynical banter between the detectives, played by Tracie Thom and Muse Watson, passes for B-movie wit, but what's the point?

For John Felton (Wilson), it's another bad day: a real estate agent who can't sell a house, his mailbox is full of past-due notices, and his front door has a foreclosure document stuck to it. On top of that, he's just been fired. And his wife (Leslie Bibb) is probably fooling around with the pool guy, too.

And then along comes the mysterious stranger named Richie, dressed in black, a fedora atop his head, asking for help jump-starting his muscle car. John obliges, and before you know it he and Jackson's character are tooling around town - and Richie is killing gas station attendants and cellphone saleswomen and loudmouthed waitresses.

Nobody believes John when he says the string of dead bodies is this other guy's doing - nobody, that is, except Tammy (Peyton List, from Mad Men), the boozy ex-coworker John's been having an affair with. Meeting Evil wants to suggest that perhaps Richie is just a figment of John's imagination - that he's cracked under pressure - but Fisher can't even play that old canard convincingly.

- Steven Rea