Friday, February 5, 2016

In Theaters/On VOD: MISCONDUCT (2016)

(US - 2016)

Directed by Shintaro Shimosawa. Written by Adam Mason and Simon Boyes. Cast: Josh Duhamel, Anthony Hopkins, Al Pacino, Alice Eve, Malin Akerman, Byung-hun Lee, Julia Stiles, Glen Powell, Christopher Marquette, Marcus Lyle Brown. (R, 105 mins)

A glossy legal thriller that probably would've opened in first place at the box office in 1996 instead of going straight to VOD in 2016, MISCONDUCT actually plays like a lesser, Grisham-inspired outing from that era that's just been thawed after 20 years in ice. In a role that would've been played by Michael Douglas in his hot-button, water-cooler-discussion heyday or perhaps Richard Gere or maybe John Cusack or Brad Pitt, the bland Josh Duhamel is Ben Cahill, an ambitious and morally dubious New Orleans attorney who thinks it's not cheating if the good guys win. He routinely relies on his computer hacker buddy (Christopher Marquette) to work his magic to get intel on the opposition and use that to secure fat settlements for his clients. Things aren't as good at home, with his marriage to nurse Charlie (Alice Eve) in a rough patch following a miscarriage. The setting is perfect for temptation, which arrives in the form of Emily Hynes (Malin Akerman), Ben's college ex who's now the trophy girlfriend to her sugar daddy, billionaire pharmaceutical CEO Arthur Denning (Anthony Hopkins). Denning is currently under investigation for fixing the clinical trials of a new drug to secure FDA approval even though he and his company know it's unsafe. Emily has the evidence to put Denning away and after attempting to seduce Ben, she manages to get him on her side. Ben takes the information to his boss, superstar lawyer Charles Abrams (Al Pacino), who's been trying to nail the corrupt Denning for years, always losing near the end of the game. What follows are the usual double and triple-crosses, a kidnapping, a body count both intentional and accidental, and the periodic appearances of a mysterious, terminally-ill Korean assassin known as "The Accountant" (Byung-hun Lee).

It's hard to dislike a twisty legal thriller with tawdry elements like Emily being a masochist who likes rough sex and being spanked, but MISCONDUCT doesn't have the drive or the chutzpah to go down the trashy, post-BASIC INSTINCT road. It doesn't really seem interested in being much of a thriller, either, with debuting director Shintaro Shimosawa (a former writer on CRIMINAL MINDS: SUSPECT BEHAVIOR and THE FOLLOWING, and the screenwriter of the career-worst Forest Whitaker vehicle REPENTANCE) more focused on show-offy camera movements that serve little purpose, like having a profile shot of one actor talking to another and slowly gliding the camera over to the other actor for their response. What Shimosawa probably thought was stylish just comes across like a badly-timed instance of panning-and-scanning that you'd see on a poorly-framed VHS edition of a widescreen film. It wouldn't be so distracting if it wasn't the only move in his repertoire, but luckily, he's got a contrived script by B horror vets Adam Mason and Simon Boyes (BROKEN, NOT SAFE FOR WORK) to absorb some of the blowback. It's all formula and cliches, with actors forced to say lines like "You're playing with fire!" and "I hope you know what you're doing...tread lightly," and "You sure you wanna play this game?" At one point, Ben and Charlie are both on the ground with their hands tied behind their back, about to be killed by The Accountant--the dumbest and least-intimidating assassin name since Pierce Brosnan played "The Watchmaker" in SURVIVOR--when Ben barks "When they find you, you're looking at three counts of murder!" as if that'll sway him or put Ben in an advantageous position. And when that doesn't work, he just goes to an old standby: "I'll fuckin' kill you!" MISCONDUCT never catches fire and never makes a whole lot of sense, with the filmmakers pretty liberally borrowing from a bunch of other similar thrillers from yesteryear, even giving Duhamel a chance to do his own "Tom Cruise running" shot when The Accountant is chasing him on a motorcycle. By the end, they also decide to start ripping off GONE GIRL because what the hell, why not?

Duhamel, Eve, Akerman, and Julia Stiles (as a hard-nosed Denning security chief) don't really register but they aren't bad, either. They're just there. The real story here is the presence of a pair of old warhorses like Hopkins and Pacino, both coasting through for a quick buck. Hopkins, whose work here will make you appreciate how much he busted his ass in FREEJACK, does his usual icy, cooing Hannibal Lecter delivery as the asshole one-percenter who thinks he can buy everything, while Pacino dials down the bombast but cranks the local color up to 11 as Abrams, breaking out a ludicrously broad N'awlins accent that would make Steven Seagal cringe. Doing everything short of throwing beads, dipping a Po-Boy in some jambalaya, and fanning himself with that day's edition of the Times-Picayune to let you know his character's from New Orleans, Pacino turns in a cartoon of a performance but neither he nor Hopkins are in this enough to make it the kind of trashy fun it should be. In fact, it's a little depressing. As ridiculous as Pacino's performance is, it's somehow not ridiculous enough. And therein lies the biggest problem with MISCONDUCT: it puts forth zero effort. None of the actors seem like they want to be there. They're punching a clock and doing only what they need to do to get by, and what scant slices of ham Hopkins and Pacino dole out are done more to keep themselves awake than to keep the audience entertained. Remember when RUNAWAY JURY came out in 2003? The promise of Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman squaring off as opposing lawyers in what press hype at the time called "The Scene" was enough to get people in the seats and make the movie a hit. And "The Scene" didn't disappoint. Now, in 2016, 78-year-old Hopkins and 75-year-old Pacino, two monuments of cinema appearing in the same movie for the first time on the cusp of their emeritus years, have one scene together and judging from the way that scene is blocked and cut, the slumming legends couldn't even arrange their schedules so they could be on the set together at the same time. They don't give a shit. Why should you?

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