The Misfits

Artless heist movie The Misfits might be a timeshare sales pitch in disguise

Pierce Brosnan and Nick Cannon star in this antiquated Abu Dhabi-set action comedy.

I recently tore through Brian Trenchard-Smith’s autobiography Adventures in the B Movie Trade, a self-published volume in which the Australian B-movie director outlines the highs and lows of his career. Trenchard-Smith started strong with idiosyncratic genre movies like The Man From Hong Kong and Deathcheaters, but eventually found himself somewhat stuck in a loop of cable TV movies and low-budget horror sequels that he was often brought onto at the last minute lest the whole project collapse. What Adventures in the B Movie Trade taught me about the more mercantile side of filmmaking and distribution is that good intentions are plentiful but not exactly useful. The general narrative when one is faced with a bad movie is that it was made by incompetents with a skewed idea of what a movie really is; what that book (and, subsequently, Renny Harlin’s The Misfits) taught me is that most bad movies are born out of a need to work and a burning desire to keep working.

All this to say that The Misfits is bad, but bad in an artless, heartless way that suggests few people involved with the production would really be gutted to hear that. It’s spit-shined filler product whose chief quality seems to be that it has a beginning, middle and end and that everyone involved got paid more or less on time. These are not, as you would probably guess, optimal conditions for creating memorable cinema. Add to that the fact that the film has been funded in large part by a Middle Eastern prince of some kind (I have to say that the PR babble that’s out there about Rami Jaber doesn’t make much of anything clear) who has charitably cast himself in a large supporting role and you’ve got a movie that’s been expertly designed to be scrolled past on a plane once travel resumes.

The Misfits
Pierce Brosnan, Nick Cannon, Jamie Chung, Mike Angelo, Tim Roth and Rami Jaber star in The Misfits

The titular Misfits are a crew of seasoned thieves whose motivation is a Robin Hood-esque ethos in which they steal from the rich to give to the poor. Ringo (Nick Cannon), Violet (Jamie Chung), the Prince (the aforementioned actual prince Rami Jaber) and Wick (Mike Angelo) have their sights set on a huge cache of gold being held inside a maximum-security prison by the corrupt warden Schultz (Tim Roth), who uses his ill-gotten gains from the prison-industrial complex to fund terrorist cells. In order to gain access to the gold, the Misfits rope in suave super-criminal Richard Pace (Pierce Brosnan), who’s currently incarcerated in one of Schultz’s prisons for the unforgivable crime of schtupping his wife. Together with Pace, the Misfits hatch a complex plan that has them mostly chilling in Abu Dhabi, to the point where it starts to feel like Renny Harlin is trying to covertly sell you a timeshare.

On its surface, the script (co-written by Kurt Wimmer, of Equilibrium, Ultraviolet and Street Kings fame) is an amiable-enough heist thriller the likes of which are produced by the bucketful each year. All you need for one of these is a handful of quirky characters, a mildly understandable heist and at least one exotic setting and you’ve at least got something that can compete with the others. The Misfits has all of that, but it’s presented in such a workmanlike, uninvolved fashion that its few excesses barely even register. Harlin performs slickness and sleight-of-hand on the surface, but The Misfits can’t quite cut the whole fake-it-until-you-make-it angle. It looks and feels cheap — not necessarily from a budgetary angle, though there is the inevitable dodgy CGI and janky greenscreen synonymous with this type of project — even if Harlin seems hell-bent to squeeze all of the glitz and luxury he can from the setting.

What The Misfits most lacks is a personality of its own. Most of it seems simply xeroxed off of other projects, from Cannon’s cheeky po-mo voiceover and long sequence in which he impersonates an African official that would have seemed moldy if Eddie Murphy had done it 35 years ago to an interminable mass-vomiting sequence in a prison that ultimately proves to be the second-biggest action sequence in terms of scope. It’s old-fashioned in the worst way — not a throwback per se, but an action-comedy with antiquated notions of comedy and anemic action that seems to have been designed a long time ago for much higher-wattage stars and a significantly higher budget. Of the cast, only Brosnan seems to relish in his own slumming, with everyone else feeling more or less entirely checked out.

It’s not really that surprising that a film as uninspired as The Misfits is directed by Renny Harlin. Once one of Hollywood’s top action directors, Harlin has found himself getting smaller and smaller American projects and eventually making the complete switch to international productions, even directing a few Chinese blockbusters and one Finnish comedy sequel in recent years. It’s easy to see why financiers would think that Harlin — a solid action director with the right resources — might be able to breathe some life into the many limitations of The Misfits. Harlin instead settles for just making sure the movie exists in relatively normal fashion. That The Misfits stinks is no one’s fault, really — it’s a collective effort, but at least everyone got paid, I suppose. ■

The Misfits is available on VOD as of Tuesday, July 13. Read more about the film on its IMDB page. Watch the trailer here:

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