Starring: Josh Duhamel, Anthony Hopkins, Al Pacino, Alice Eve, Malin Ackerman, Julia Stiles, Glen Howard, Chris Marquette
Rated R for Language, Violence, and Some Sexuality/Nudity
You'd think I'd learn. A few years ago I watched a movie I found available at a grocery store, of all places, called "The Stone Merchant." It starred Harvey Keitel and F. Murray Abraham and it was available for cheap, so I bought it. And it was awful. So here is "Misconduct," a legal thriller starring acting titans Al Pacino and Anthony Hopkins, up-and-coming leading man Josh Duhamel and lady Alice Eve, and reliable character actors Malin Ackerman and Julia Stiles. Surely it had to be a diamond in the rough, right? That would be a no.
A pharmaceutical company is being sued after one of its drugs caused the deaths of hundreds of people. A hotshot lawyer named Ben Cahill (Duhamel) wants to lead the case when an old flame, Emily Hynes (Ackerman), comes to him with evidence that not only did the CEO Arthur Denning (Hopkins) know that the drug was deadly, he covered it up. His boss, Charles Abrams (Pacino), is impressed by his ambition, and gives him the go ahead. Trouble arises when Ben nearly makes the mistake of cheating on his wife Charlotte (Eve) with Emily and Emily ends up missing.
"Misconduct" is like a bad John Grisham movie. Grisham wasn't the best writer (for legal thrillers set in the South, the Penn Cage novels win hands down), but his stories had a certain grace to them. Newbie director Shintaro Shimosawa tries to ape Grisham's formula, but fails spectacularly. This is a terrible movie.
For one thing, every character has the IQ of a peanut. The late great film critic Roger Ebert called stories like this the "Idiot Plot." This is when the plot can only work when the characters don't state the obvious. That would apply here if the characters were smart enough to actually figure out the obvious. The whole plot starts because Ben tries to cover up his affair with Emily, which of course never actually happened.
With such a strong cast, you'd think that they could at least keep things watchable. But no one is trying here. They're all slumming for paychecks, which, considering the $11 million budget, must have been paltry considering what they're used to. Josh Duhamel tries his best to hide the fact that his character is a complete moron. He's so dumb that he's just asking for trouble. Anthony Hopkins and Al Pacino, neither of whom are above walking through roles for easy money (for anyone who doubts me, I submit "Instinct" and "Gigli" as evidence), are in full "take the money and run mode." Pacino in particular is awful, acting either drunk, stoned or demented. Possibly all three. He hasn't been this bad since that crapfest "88 Minutes." Reliable talents like Alice Eve, Malin Ackerman and Julia Stiles have conveniently and mysteriously forgotten how to act. Only Glen Howard and Chris Marquette escape unscathed, but their screen time is so minimal that it's hard to judge whether or not the film would have been better had it concentrated on them instead.
In addition to being able to drain the talent out of just about everyone on screen, Shimosawa has no idea what he's doing behind the camera. Shots are poorly framed and visual techniques are poorly executed and inappropriately used. For example, the surprise revelation of a corpse is so badly done that I thought it was someone else. Imagine my shock and confusion when I found the person I thought to be the dead body alive and well in the very next scene. This sloppiness is indicative of the entire picture.
But the cardinal sin of this movie is that it's boring. Shimosawa takes this movie deadly seriously, and the actors are so obviously bored that they can't be bothered to camp it up. At least then it might be fun in a late-night b-movie sort of way. Or a parody of John Grisham movies (which I have to admit would have been odd, since he hasn't been relevant in 20 years). But alas, it's played straight, and that means boredom. Trust me, don't waste your time or money on this movie. Taking the Bar on a whim would be more fulfilling.