Evil is Samuel L. Jackson breaking into an Edward G. Robinson voice and wearing a black, 1920s-style gangster suit and fedora in Meeting Evil. That type of silliness defines Chris Fisher’s thriller, in which just-fired real-estate agent John (Luke Wilson) sees his lousy day take a turn for the worse when he attempts to help stranded Richie (Jackson) get his car started and winds up as the man’s prisoner. It turns out Richie is a serial killer—specifically the type that stalks innocent men and women in B-movie fashion, carrying out his dirty deeds without any sense of caution or fear, and spouting underlined pronouncements about virtue, humanity, and “the world” like some third-rate reject from the John Doe-Se7en school of psychopaths.
Why Richie chooses to make John his hostage on this daylong murder spree is the central mystery of Fisher’s script (based on Thomas Berger’s novel). Yet it’s not a question that results in anything approaching suspense, in part because Fisher so over-directs his material—via unnecessary slow-motion, stark lighting, faux-artistic cutaways to cornfields, and incessant low-angled compositions that aim to heighten tension—that the action takes on the sheen of a parody or, at least, of a film that doesn’t realize its clichés are being exaggerated to the point of absurdity.
Fisher’s script is equally excessive: the banter between two investigating cops (Tracie Thoms and Muse Watson) is of a cornball, no-nonsense variety; John’s wife, Joanie (Leslie Bibb), tells off Thoms’s cop with a speech of laugh-out-loud callousness; and Jackson spends his entire screen time delivering menacing threats and dropping not-so-subtle clues such as “I’m just like you, John” and “You gotta trust your own best instincts, John.” Meeting Evil skips over actually depicting Richie’s gruesome crimes, but wastes time feebly suggesting that Richie might just be a figment of John’s snapped-due-to-economic-hardship mind. Of course, that idea is as unbelievable as everything else in this saga, which seems to exist primarily so that Jackson can strut about with monster-of-the-midway menace, and the actor’s self-righteous routine does carry with it a bit of amusing nastiness, even if it’s far less entertainingly over the top than his turn as Lakeview Terrace‘s anti-miscegenation baddie.
After much nonsense about infidelities, the final revelation about Richie’s true nature is handled with an ambiguity that carries through to the final domestic moments. Alas, there’s no chill to the film’s ultimate implication, whose ridiculousness is—like the rest of this cartoon-ominous tale—epitomized by the sight of Jackson trying to frighten John and Joanie’s kids with a snarly-scary face.