Misconduct: Muddled Legal Thriller

If you’re burned out on all the holiday specials and movies and are in the mood for a laughably bad movie, one that falls into the “it’s so bad it’s almost good” category, look no further than Misconduct. It’s really hard to believe just how awful this film is considering the cast, which includes Anthony Hopkins, Al Pacino, and Julia Stiles.

Misconduct (2016), a recent addition to Netflix streaming, was directed by Shintaro Shimosawa, who’s written and produced B-movie crime dramas and thrillers such as The Following and The Grudge tries his hand at directing here. The title makes it sound like a film version of a John Grisham or Scott Turow novel and the cast, you’d think it would be, at the very least, a middling legal thriller. I was completely unprepared what an incoherent mess this turned out to be.

Misconduct starts off a little confusing, picks up momentum with a familiar but fairly interesting plot about the unscrupulous CEO of a pharmaceutical company named Arthur Denning (Hopkins) trying to negotiate the release of his kidnapped girlfriend Emily (Malin Akerman). Then there’s the mandatory flashback (only one week here), where we’re introduced to an ambitious young attorney Beh Cahill (Josh Duhamel) planning to bring down Denning with the help of his unstable ex-girlfriend -the very same Emily who’s now hooked up with Denning. From this fairly conventional but palatable setup, it all falls apart quickly.

In a typical legal thriller, the case against Denning would be the main story. Here, that’s all resolved early on as Denning unexpectedly offers to settle for a generous figure, presumably to avoid bad publicity. However, Cahill’s problems are just beginning as he’s suspected of murder and being stalked by the real killer. One of the problems with the film is that the incident that sets everything off – Emily’s kidnapping and/or murder- doesn’t really make sense and has no direct connection to the legal case. By the time we find out what really happened to her, it seems random.

The first clue that we’re in fledgling B-movie territory is when Cahill, inevitably accused of the murder he didn’t commit, escapes the police by escaping through the back window. Apparently, these cops have never seen an episode of Law & Order much less received normal training, as there are dozens of cops and even helicopters overhead but no one thinks to check the back of the building for the fleeing suspect. He manages to open a nasty gash while escaping through the window, which he glues shut with superglue after waiting on a long line at the pharmacy. Despite a supposed manhunt for him in New Orleans, far from the world’s largest city, Denning seems to have an aura of invisibility as he wanders from location to location trying to find the real culprit.

To further muddle things, there’s an Asian assassin who may or may not be working for Hopkins or someone else, who’s stalking everyone connected to the case. There’s Al Pacino trying to pull off a Southern accent as a senior law partner. Cahill’s wife Charlotte (Alice Eve), who may or may not play a key role in the events, seems apathetic through most of the film. However, the acting isn’t really the problem here as the script seems little more than a composite of a dozen or so other (mostly better) movies, including Fatal Attraction, Chinatown, The Firm and so on.

By the end, there’s little attempt to tie it all together in any coherent way. For one thing, Cahill shoots and presumably kills a minor character who has the misfortune of opening the door when Cahill confronts Hopkins. This killing is just glossed over. Nor do we know (or really care) what happens to the huge settlement at the end when everything falls apart.

If you approach Misconduct with the lowest possible expectations and a sense of humor, it’s a viable 90-minute diversion. A revealing piece of trivia Misconduct only made a little over $100 when it opened in the UK.

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