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Misconduct Review

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A hotshot Louisiana lawyer (Josh Duhamel), building a case for his boss (Al Pacino) against a crooked pharmaceutical tycoon (Anthony Hopkins), gets drawn into a twisted world of blackmail, corruption and murder.

★★★★

In their illustrious 40-year-plus film careers, Al Pacino and Anthony Hopkins have never had the pleasure of trading creatively unhinged monologues on screen. This legal drama, almost impressive in its fumbling ludicrousness, marks their first time appearing together. And also, you’d venture, represents the pinnacle of all wasted casting opportunities.

At some stage there may have been the ghost of a decent premise here.

At some stage there may have been the ghost of a decent premise here. Briskly plotted early scenes introduce us to Arthur Denning (Hopkins with a slick of white hair and almost Trumpian hauteur) — an impossibly wealthy pharmaceutical boss weathering a storm of allegations about the grisly side effects of his products and also dealing with the apparent kidnap of his young girlfriend Emily (Malin Akerman).

A flashback then reveals that, before her disappearance, Emily had handed information about Denning to her ex-boyfriend Ben Cahill (Duhamel, sporting a crinkled brow and able to speak only in plot-clarifying questions), a hotly ambitious lawyer hoping to both please his boss Charles Abrams (Pacino, all Bayou courtliness and expensive tailoring) and also stay faithful to his wife Charlotte (Alice Eve, not quite selling the emotional bruises of a recent trauma).

So, yeah, not a bad framework for a mash-up of a Grisham-esque potboiler and a Fatal Attraction-style thriller. The problem is, almost nothing works. When it isn’t ticking off implausible twists a telenovela writer would dismiss as too far-fetched, the script is weighed down by huge dumps of exposition and head-in-hands first-draft clunkers (“Be as calm as ice,” advises a detective at one point).

The obtrusive score — all jagged violins and sinister percussion — perhaps points to the overheated, knowing noir Misconduct hoped to be. But first time director Shintaro Shimosawa can’t locate a consistent tone or marshal the deepening violent mystery. What’s more, later scenes — in a desperate bid to raise the stakes — show a depressing propensity for doling out physical cruelty to female characters and, as the whole thing flails to an unintentionally hilarious conclusion nicked from Gone Girl, Shimosawa’s camera never ceases its odd habit of tilting and sliding like a distracted drunk. Add to that the fact that Hopkins and Pacino share only the briefest of scenes and that title starts to feel like a damning verdict, hidden in plain sight.

Muddled, risible and overstuffed with twists — this is an amateurish puzzlebox thriller that criminally squanders a tantalising first meeting of two big Hollywood beasts.

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