Misconduct

Shintaro Shimosawa's Misconduct feels very much like a lost film from 1990s: a John Grisham-style legal thriller that borrows some key plot twists from Presumed Innocent and tosses in some distinctly Verhoeven-esque sex and violence to spice things up. It's worse than pretty much all of its inspirations (which is saying something), but it still feels like something pulled out of a time capsule. Had it actually been released in the 1990s, the presence of acting legends like Al Pacino (The Godfather) and Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs) might have given the film a real air of prestige. However, we now live in a different era: the Age of the Movie Star is dead, and even the greatest actors of all time can find themselves trapped in crummy VOD thrillers.

Our Grisham-esque hero is Ben Cahill (Josh Duhamel, Safe Haven), a handsome young attorney who stumbles into the middle of a potentially life-changing case. For years, there have been rumors that wealthy pharmaceutical executive Arthur Denning (Hopkins) conducted drug trials with the knowledge that the drug he was testing could be fatal, but no one has been able to prove it. Ben receives a flash drive full of evidence from Arthur's jilted girlfriend Emily (Malin Akerman, Watchmen), but there's just one catch: he has to find a way to make it look like the evidence came from someone else, or Emily's life may be placed in danger. So, Ben takes the flash drive to his boss Charles Abrams (Pacino), and the firm begins working on a plan to take Arthur down.

Naturally, things don't quite go according to plan, and Ben stumbles into a tangled web of kidnappings, murders, dangerous affairs, double-crosses and legal shenanigans. The material is typical airport novel nonsense, but there's certainly a place in the world for glossy commercial entertainment. Unfortunately, Misconduct is a curious mash-up of slick technical elements (effectively moody cinematography, a terrifically enjoyable score by Federico Jusid) and moments of equally surprising incompetence.

There's one scene in which Ben is begging Emily to give him the evidence-filled flash drive, promising that he'll be able to protect her if she hands it over. She reluctantly agrees, and suddenly Ben's whole tune changes: “Are you sure? If Dennings finds out you leaked this, you'll be exposed.” What the hell, man? You were just promising her that everything would be fine, and now you're warning her about the consequences? It's sloppy, contradictory writing.

Another example: there's a scene in which Ben's wife Charlotte (Alice Eve, Star Trek Into Darkness) is cooking spaghetti. Ben walks into the kitchen and points out that Charlotte has spilled a bit of sauce on herself. Sure enough, there's a great big sauce stain on her shoulder. Look, I've spilled an embarrassing amount of food on myself, but how do you spill spaghetti sauce on your shoulder without noticing? Was she absent-mindedly holding a sauce-filled ladle over her head?

These are insignificant nitpicks, but they keep popping up all over the place and eventually give the film an air of amateurishness that proves impossible to shake. That amateurishness frequently extends to the dialogue:

Arthur: “Will they hurt her?”
FBI Agent: “Yes.”
Arthur: “You don't sugarcoat things, do you?”
FBI Agent: “Why the f--- would I do that?”

Still, “terrible” isn't the same thing as “unmemorable.” There are some genuinely bonkers moments in this flick, particularly once we move into the second half and every single character is forced to make some significant moral compromises. There's one violent sequence that falls into the so-dumb-it's-kind-of-great category, as a murderous assassin kills a woman by repeatedly running into her with his motorcycle. Additionally, there's the joy of Al Pacino's absurd performance. The film is set in New Orleans, which evidently inspired Pacino to give his character a gloriously cartoonish Foghorn Leghorn accent. This largely is a dour, moody film, but Pacino seems to be having a grand time, bringing a welcome sense of playfulness to every scene he appears in.

Admittedly, the other performances are less entertaining. Hopkins is on auto-pilot, while Akerman and Eve don't seem to know what to do with their underwritten roles. Duhamel struggles to meet the minimal demands of his vanilla part, mumbling his lines and frequently fading into the background when sharing the screen with... well, almost anyone. There's one big scene lifted almost beat-for-beat from Presumed Innocent, and watching the way Duhamel plays that moment vs. the way Harrison Ford plays it offers an excellent demonstration of why persuasive reacting is one of the most important aspects of acting. And let's face it, when your movie feels like a less successful version of Presumed Innocent... you're in big trouble.


Misconduct

Rating: ½ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 105 minutes
Release Year: 2016