Faint echoes of decades-old thrillers as diverse as “Fatal Attraction” and “Presumed Innocent” abound through “Misconduct,” a flagrantly derivative but modestly diverting drama of the sort that once claimed acres of shelf space at Blockbuster outlets. Anthony Hopkins and Al Pacino saunter through the proceedings while picking up easy paychecks and providing marquee allure, but it’s up to the top-billed Josh Duhamel to do most of the heavy lifting in this neo-noir scenario about an ambitious lawyer who bends the rules during litigation against a corrupt pharmaceutical tycoon, only to become entangled in at least two conspiracies. Limited theatrical play will be a mere formality, as is usually the case for such VOD-ready fare.
Duhamel plays Ben Cahill, a corner-cutting up-and-comer at a New Orleans law firm who’s worried about his wife, Charlotte (Alice Eve), a registered nurse who recently suffered a miscarriage, and now appears to be channeling her grief into workaholism. Ben, too, is spending more time at his job than may be good for their relationship. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t feeling neglected.
Indeed, when he’s approached by Emily (Malin Akerman), a beautiful ex-girlfriend, the audience is primed to expect an extramarital close encounter. Instead, however, Emily provides something arguably more valuable than sexual healing: incriminating computer files pilfered from her lover, Arthur Denning (Hopkins), a zillionaire drug-company owner whose latest product caused hundreds of deaths — and whose past misdeeds, not at all coincidentally, have made him a bete noire of Ben’s boss, Charles Abrams (Pacino), whose firm has never wrested a settlement from Denning. At least, not until now.
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Further plot complications are triggered by a possibly faked kidnapping, an inconvenient nosy neighbor, a far more inconvenient corpse, a cancer-stricken Korean hit man (Byung-hun Lee), and a blunt-spoken security specialist (Julia Stiles) who isn’t the least bit intimidated by zillionaire employers. Scriptwriters Simon Boyes and Adam Mason borrow freely from other movies, add a few mildly clever new twists to the mix, and wrap it all up with a final bit of dialogue that could very well elicit a smile of approval even from viewers not terribly impressed by anything that precedes it.
As a prototypically tarnished noir protagonist who gets in several fathoms over his head, Duhamel manages the tricky task of generating a rooting interest without trying too hard to seem likable (or, for that matter, trustworthy). Better still, he capably holds his own against his celebrated co-stars, who have been encouraged by director Shintaro Shimosawa to refrain from overt actorly bombast and take only random nibbles of scenery. Hopkins conveys all the smug satisfaction of an actor who has already cashed one of those aforementioned paychecks, but his bemused condescension undeniably suits his character. And Pacino comes off as downright subdued — well, OK, subdued by recent Al Pacino standards — despite employing one of those phony-baloney, location-inappropriate Southern accents that can make New Orleans natives want to yell rude things at the screen. (Think Kevin Costner in “JFK,” only not quite so egregious.)
The smooth, supple lensing of Michael Fimognari amps the tension appreciably in key scenes, most notably when the camera gracefully glides, then remains tightly fixed, to isolate a character speaking with, or reacting to, someone else. It’s a suspense-building technique that Shimosawa mercilessly exploits at the two-thirds mark, when it’s very clear that someone outside of the frame is very seriously deceased — but the director takes his own sweet time letting the audience know just whose corpse has been discovered. A nasty trick, effectively used.