Odds are you haven’t heard of The Misfits, the heist adventure film coming out this weekend starring Pierce Brosnan (the James Bond of the ‘90s,) and Nick Cannon, host of The Masked Singer and former Chief Creative Officer of RadioShack. Or perhaps, like me, you caught wind of its imminent release and became grimly fascinated by the very idea of it. Its trailer effectively tricked me into perceiving it as a mid-budget Hollywood summer movie, an over-the-top action flick presumably placed on the calendar as counter-programming to this week’s blockbuster musical In the Heights. In actuality, it’s an independently financed vanity project dressed up like a studio picture, and it pulls off the disguise pretty well on a superficial level thanks to veteran action director Renny Harlin (Deep Blue Sea, The Long Kiss Goodnight). But while The Misfits may have ambitions of being Ocean’s Eleven meets Fast & Furious, there’s really nothing under the hood.
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The Misfits follows Richard Pace (Brosnan), a high-end thief and pickpocket with an eye for fine timepieces. Pace has a habit of getting caught, but also a talent for escape — he’s broken out of four different institutions run by the global private prison magnate Werner Schultz (Tim Roth,The Hateful Eight). Schultz happens to be the next target of the Misfits, a group of roguish do-gooders who have banded together to take their individual Robin Hood acts global. One of Schultz’s prisons is secretly storing millions in gold for a terrorist leader, and the Misfits want Pace to help them steal the gold and funnel it into a refugee relief effort. Pace is reluctant to do such dangerous charity work, but changes his tune when he learns that the plan’s mastermind is his own estranged daughter Hope (Hermione Corfield, We Hunt Together).
(Didn’t I just review another movie in which a father and daughter patch things up over a heist?)
What follows is a pretty breezy and by-the-numbers heist movie without a lot of surprises to speak of, though with the added novelty of being set in a high-tech prison in the Middle East. What texture there is comes from the dynamic between Pace and Hope, which Brosnan and Corfield play with a skill befitting a better movie. Hope’s first goal is to steal a fortune to donate to UNICEF, but she also sees a chance to redeem her father. She believes that there’s a good man inside Pace, if only she can convince him to look. Unfortunately, these emotional stakes are mostly forgotten during the back half of the film.
Tim Roth plays Pace’s nemesis Schultz, though the two actors don’t actually share any scenes together. Roth gives an interesting performance, playing most scenes with the untroubled bemusement of a Martin Freeman character. This aloofness is in contrast to a vicious streak, teased when he beats a man with a cell phone off-screen in the film’s prologue but never revisited in the film. He’s a pencil-pusher in an ugly business making in-roads into a much uglier one, and the fact that he’s more pitiable than menacing helps to maintain the film’s playful tone.
“and Nick Cannon”
Of the rest of the titular team, the one who gets the most attention is the team’s infiltrator, master of disguise, and comic relief, Ringo (Cannon). Ringo is the first character to whom we’re introduced in the film, and our narrator for the prologue and finale. He’s the one ostensibly telling the story, but once Pace takes over as the lead, The Misfits ceases to be about Ringo or his perspective. Still, a decent chunk of screen time is dedicated to Ringo, posing as a health inspector with an untraceable cartoon accent, jerking around the prison’s put-upon warden in order to set the table for the heist. The warden is portrayed by Abu Dhabi actor Rik Aby, who plays the flustered straight man to Cannon’s Bugs Bunny and is actually my favorite performance in the film.
Cannon’s broad comedy did manage a few chuckles out of me, but in all honesty my biggest laugh in the movie came from his placement at the end of the credits: “and Nick Cannon.” While I was initially amused by his getting this honorific, usually reserved for whatever actor is slumming it the most, the circumstances behind this billing became more clear once I did some more research on the production. The Prince, the money behind The Misfits, is played by Rami Jaber, the money behind the movie who has apparently used his feature acting debut to gift himself second billing to Pierce Brosnan. This position belongs to Cannon by right of screen time and recognizance, so the “and” credit was likely his consolation prize. The Prince, by the way, is a precision driver who is also “the prince of a country you’ve never heard of,” and Jaber himself is a former rally driver and apparently an actual prince. The revelation that The Misfits is, in part, one fabulously rich guy’s self-insert fic cheapens the entire experience somewhat.
Meanwhile, none of the remaining members of the Misfits have much of an opportunity to stretch out. Quirky explosives expert Wick (Thai pop star Mike Angelo) has plenty of charm, but gets a single scene in the spotlight. Vigilante assassin Violet (Jamie Chung, Lovecraft Country) is the team’s heavy, but her much-vaunted fighting skills come into play only once. She is also the team’s straight man, but she’s not a foil for the comedy so much as someone who stands outside the comedy, always locked in with the stakes of their mission and the grim emotional toll of her violent life. There’s also an attempt to play some romantic chemistry between Violet and Pace (30 years her senior) which simply does not exist.
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Fast, but Not Furious
That The Misfits is watchable and even fun at times is a credit to the direction of Renny Harlin, the Finnish director who had a string of hits in the 1990s but whose career never recovered from the calamitous box office failure of the Geena Davis-led pirate adventure Cutthroat Island. Harlan is a deft action director who makes the most of the film’s two car chases and one scene of combat, but also keeps the energy up during the less intense moments. His take on Abu Dhabi — a place where tourists ride shotgun in Lamborghini taxis and walk their pet cheetahs — exaggerates its reputed opulence to otherworldly levels.
It took me until after the end of my first viewing to realize just how little action The Misfits actually has, and to notice the details that indicate how much less expensive these setpieces are than your average Hollywood blockbuster. For example, no cars are wrecked during either of the film’s chases, but because the photography is pretty and the editing is playful, I didn’t really miss the customary destruction or gunplay. It was a welcome reminder that a car chase doesn’t always need a tank or a robot or a collapsing highway to be exciting.
It’s the components that aren’t necessarily budget-dependent, like characterization and pacing, that make The Misfits fall apart. The Misfits isn’t any dumber or sillier than a Fast & Furious movie, but the reason it doesn’t measure up to any of those films isn’t because it has less spectacle but because it has much less chemistry within the cast and less attention to the characters. In a way, it’s a victory for the producers of The Misfits that someone would even draw that comparison, unfavorably or not. Renny Harlan and Rami Jaber haven’t produced a memorable American blockbuster, but they have come away with a movie that wouldn’t look out of place airing during a weekday afternoon on TNT, leaving some viewers scratching their heads and wondering “Why have I never heard of this?”