In the years that followed the critical and box office failure of pirate adventure film Cutthroat Island back in 1995—leading to a steady, years-long decline in the U.S.—director Renny Harlin eventually whisked himself away to China in the mid-2010s. It was there Harlin found himself far more embraced than in the U.S., where returns had greatly diminished and Golden Raspberry Awards nominations had accrued (and it didn’t help that Cutthroat Island had essentially bankrupted an entire studio). Thus, following his direction of the Jackie Chan and Johnny Knoxville film Skiptrace in 2016—a Chinese co-production—the Finnish filmmaker of successful blockbuster action films like Die Hard 2 and Deep Blue Sea made the move east permanent, even founding his own company in China. His second film after moving, videogame adaptation Legend of the Ancient Sword, didn’t do so hot; the film after that, Bodies at Rest, however, holds an 80% on Rotten Tomatoes. But his newest film, The Misfits—his first American production since 2014’s The Legend of Hercules—is no 80-percenter on Rotten Tomatoes. Quite the opposite: It feels like the feature film adaptation of a stock photo.
The Misfits, starring Pierce Brosnan and Nick Cannon, is airless, pointless and only passably made; an amalgamation of the most tired clichés of heist movies, executed in the emptiest way possible. Coming from a capable director, it feels like there was some other reason for making this film. Like it was a front for something—a money-laundering scheme. It pains me to be so cruel to a film, but it would be far less easy if it wasn’t also wildly racially insensitive. The film operates off a script from co-writers Robert Henny and Kurt Wimmer, who seem to be writing as if we’re in an entirely different era, back when doing exaggerated Middle Eastern accents and making jokes about all Muslim people being named “Mohammed” was still seen as kosher.
The film’s plot follows an unorthodox band of criminals known as the Misfits…but this name only rings true to the group’s leader, Ringo (Cannon) who, during the seven-minute introductory narration, goes to great lengths to explain that the other members of the team don’t necessarily agree with this name. The Misfits—who, alongside Ringo, include ass-kicking girl-power broad Violet (Jamie Chung) and pyrotechnic Wick (Mike Angelo)—become aligned with a master thief known as Richard Pace (Brosnan, looking hot). Pace recently escaped from a prison, one of many run by a man named Schultz (Tim Roth, also looking hot), who does business with an extremist group called the Muslim Brotherhood. The Misfits want to partner with Pace to steal the gold currently hoarded by Schultz and the Muslim Brotherhood in one of Schultz’s Middle East prisons. Not so they can keep the gold for themselves necessarily, but so they can get it out of the hands of terrorists. It felt like we left that sort of “righteous Westerners vs. evil Muslim terrorists” type of storyline to the annals of the past where it belongs, but The Misfits either wants to bring back the good old days, or doesn’t really care what it’s doing or the message it’s sending one way or the other.
Eventually Pace reluctantly agrees to “do the right thing” and steal the gold with the Misfits. This is despite not being guaranteed any of the riches, in order to impress his estranged, humanitarian daughter Hope (Hermione Corfield)—because of course he has an estranged daughter. Hope literally says, out loud, “I have trouble trusting men. Daddy issues,” during a conversation between the two of them. When she said this, I laughed out loud. Not simply because it was funny (it was) or because it was so expected (again, it was), but out of perverse acceptance of the pain I was in.
The Misfits’ plot is 90% narration, to the point where it becomes difficult to follow the images on the screen while Cannon is talking your ear off. The insistence on narration seems to have less to do with not trusting the audience to understand the story (I cannot stress enough that it is incredibly simple), but as an attempt to add some flavor to the film without actually doing anything with the filmmaking. That’s what a lot of the film’s stylistic flourishes amount to: Garnishing a dish instead of actually seasoning it. An old timey, black-and-white sequence opens the film while Cannon energetically explains how to rob banks properly; comedic cutaways and flashback sequences punctuate the otherwise sloppy narrative; occasionally zippy editing deigns to make you feel like you’re watching something with personality in the same league as the Oceans franchise, which might be attributable to editor Colleen Rafferty (The Man in the High Castle, Burn Notice).
Most of the acting amounts to entirely fine, performances evocative of “I was here, I showed up, I got paid” (almost calling to mind the lucrative “geezer teaser” empire). Nobody other than Cannon is particularly bad—but he is a positively insufferable presence. Not funny, not charismatic and given the clearance to do a caricature of a Middle Eastern accent (that he later tries to say is European), dress up in full traditional garb and pretend to be a Middle Eastern man—especially interesting given the actor’s recent flirtation with antisemitism. Scenes are devoid of substance or style—characters, objects and locations fill a shot without there being anything actually in it. Top 40 needle drops that sound indistinguishable from the last are as hollow as they are distracting.
These touches only add to the sense that The Misfits was made in a lab at Getty Images; a series of dull yet sleekly produced visuals which convey only the most boilerplate level of storytelling, functioning more closely to a heist-themed photoshoot. Its barest minimum attempts at panache are rendered empty of the touch of any true artistic flair or singularity. The film itself becomes a black void, a rudderless vision anchored only by the desire to see it end.
Director: Renny Harlin
Writers: Robert Henny, Kurt Wimmer
Stars: Pierce Brosnan, Nick Cannon, Tim Roth, Mike Angelo, Jamie Chung, Hermione Corfield
Release Date: June 11, 2021
Brianna Zigler is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. Her work has appeared at Little White Lies, Film School Rejects, Thrillist, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more, and she writes a bi-monthly newsletter called That’s Weird. You can follow her on Twitter, where she likes to engage in stimulating discussions on films like Movie 43, Clifford, and Watchmen.