Renny Harlin’s new movie The Misfits sometimes appears uncertain about how best to assemble the elements of a glamorous heist thriller. However, it is deeply confident about how to assemble elements of an effective trailer: low-slung sports cars and close-ups of their spinning wheels, implying the presence of car chases that barely exist; Jamie Chung doing mid-air martial arts, in what turns out to be a full-on Shrek-style Matrix spoof; Pierce Brosnan grinning like a maniac. The Misfits is so eager to sell itself that it uses the song “How You Like Me Now?” by The Heavy, familiar from its appearance in every movie ad released in 2010, during the opening minutes of the actual movie.
Those opening minutes, like a trailer, are supposed to prepare the audience for fast-paced irreverence. Instead, they play more like a desperate, upfront confession about how cheap this international production will look and sound—a pre-emptive warning that despite a name cast and exciting locations, it will also feature cheesy black-and-white freeze-frames, bit players doing grotesque pantomimes of human behavior, and a female character’s “girl power” being called out as such via horrifying voiceover.
That narration is inexplicably delivered by Nick Cannon, playing a guy who has named himself Ringo after Ringo Starr as a questionable bit. With the hollow, overemphatic intonations of a TV presenter, Ringo introduces Violet (Chung), Wick (Mike Angelo—a charming Thai pop star, not the famous movie critic), The Prince (Rami Jaber), and himself; collectively, they’re a group of good-hearted thieves and con artists who have made it their business to stop bad people by taking their money. (Basically, they’re the team from 6 Underground, only without a seething resentment of humanity lurking underneath their wiseacre exteriors.) Their latest project involves stealing gold from a private prison in the Middle East, owned by Schultz (Tim Roth), who has been funding a terrorist group. Career criminal Richard Pace (Brosnan) has done time in a Schultz-owned facility, so his semi-estranged daughter, Hope (Hermione Corfield), brings him into the heist planning.
At this point, Pierce Brosnan has played a dissolute middle-aged riff on James Bond more times than he’s played the actual Bond; he’s introduced here stirring, not shaking, a martini. When he shows up, the movie settles down, as if Brosnan’s jaunty presence is putting everyone else at ease. When Brosnan gives a goofy departing hand salute at his enemy as elevator doors close, The Misfits doesn’t become good, exactly. But it’s around this point that the movie focuses more on the pleasures of its core clichés—the elaborate heist planning, the nicely underplayed father-daughter relationship—rather than stumbling through a garbage pile of disconnected enticements. Cannon’s early narration winds up performing a con-like function: Its cessation around the 20-minute mark makes the rest of the movie seem vastly superior by comparison.
On the other hand, it also means that Cannon wears out his welcome well before he breaks out mincing fake accents and zany cross-racial disguises during the actual heist. The Misfits will not be noted in the future for its forward-looking vision of the Middle East, despite co-funding from FilmGate, an Abu Dhabi-based company. It often looks like a paid advertisement for United Arab Emirates tourism, made with the stipulation that any truly luxurious freebies would be provided only after the completion of principal photography. In other words, much of the movie appears to have been shot in a series of hotel lobbies. Apart from the indistinct prison the team breaks into, the settings are vaguely fancy but not lived-in. No wonder Roth’s Schultz never seems more than mildly interested in catching his adversaries. Nothing in the movie, from spiting the bad guy to absconding with gold bars to apprehending the thieves, seems like a genuinely big score to anyone involved.
Yet Brosnan’s occasional self-amused cackles of delight do have an infectious charm, as do the non-Cannon members of his scrappy, ragtag group of, uh, attractive and successful professionals. (Despite the title, and a groan-worthy early gag about cycling through possible team names, they are not misfits by any reasonable definition of the word.) Corfield does a nice job locating small moments of affection within the disappointment she supposedly feels with her onscreen dad, and Chung, playing a humor-impaired ass-kicker, maintains some of her deadpan nonchalance from TV’s The Gifted.
Plus, it’s hard to get too ticked off at a movie heist predicated on a scene of mass vomiting. The Misfits has moments of silliness that bear glancing resemblance to the kind of enjoyable starry, big-studio shlock Renny Harlin used to make, in between the parts that resemble the lower-rent genre efforts he churns out now. It’s easier to imagine a brawnier or more lurid version of this material, though not as easy as it is to forget about the movie entirely. It’s as briefly functional and highly disposable as a hotel key-card.