‘The Misfits’ Review: Pierce Brosnan and Nick Cannon Have No Business in Abu Dhabi

·4-min read

Had “The Misfits” been made 22 years earlier — say, in the sweet spot between James Bond globe-trotter “The World Is Not Enough” and the release of Guy Ritchie’s “Snatch” — chances are, audiences would’ve had a pretty good time watching “Die Hard 2” director Renny Harlin’s idea of a cutting-edge heist movie. “The Misfits” stars Pierce Brosnan as one of half a dozen not-so-petty criminals who team up to knock off a for-profit prison in Abu Dhabi, where the guy who built it (Tim Roth) has been stockpiling blood money for terrorists in the form of well-secured gold bars.

But this is 2021, and Harlin — who peaked with “Cliffhanger,” bombed with “Cutthroat Island” and has been treading water ever since — is still making movies for ’90s sensibilities. Even the idea of a team of rule-breakers who pool their talents (all of which seem perfectly suited for breaking the law) to thwart a far-worse international operation feels old-fashioned. Didn’t Brett Ratner already make this movie, twice, between orchestrating something similar with “Tower Heist” and directing Brosnan in “After the Sunset”?

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Here, the suave ex-Bond star plays Richard Pace, a compulsive pickpocket with a brain for much bigger jobs. He’s the missing ingredient in a motley crew who call themselves “the Misfits” (since “Mötley Crüe” was already taken). The gang otherwise consists of bank robber Ringo (Nick Cannon), pyrotechnic whiz Wick (Mike Angelo), martial arts contortionist Violet (Jamie Chung) and con man/crown royalty “the Prince” (rally driver and short-film maker Rami Jaber, making his feature acting debut in a film he not-so-coincidentally exec produced).

Pace’s daughter Hope (Hermione Corfield) is also involved, although the whole thing feels pretty sketchy, with Roth’s prison builder Schultz serving as the corrupt authority figure, and everyone else pooling their talents to prevent him from funding a Middle Eastern terrorist scheme. Harlin’s strategy — one that’s worked for plenty of other directors — is to present everything in such a flashy way that audiences don’t pause to question the particulars.

The objective here is to infiltrate the Dola Penal Institute, food-poison the entire inmate population and use the distraction to drill into the vault (conveniently accessible through a prisoner bathroom), smuggling the gold out by the most creative way possible. There’s not much suspense as to whether they will succeed, but Kurt Wimmer and Robert Henny’s screenplay invites us to wonder just how loyal such a group of grifters will be to one another. More to the point, will Pace disappear on his daughter again after he gets the gold, or will he do the honorable thing for once?

Wimmer, as you may recognize, is the writer whose reboots of “Point Break” and “Total Recall” failed to recognize what fans loved about those early-’90s action favorites. There’s something a little too apt about his penning a movie for Harlin to direct, though both parties feel as if they have something to prove, cramming the film with questionable flourishes, like the match cut from a bloody bludgeoning instrument to a character pouring a glass of dark red punch. They also make it cutesy with “Family Guy”-style cutaway gags, inserting a cheeky vignette here and there (like Ringo performing karaoke or Pace dancing with Schultz’s wife) for a laugh.

Only, the laughs feel forced here, as when the Prince explains that Schultz is “in bed” with “bin Laden’s successor,” and Cannon’s obnoxiously unfunny comic-relief character quips: “In bed, under the covers, with KY jelly doing all kinds of freaky shit.” It takes a special kind of miscalculation to make the usually charming Cannon such an abrasive equal-opportunity offender, which the film achieves by putting him through an Eddie Murphy-esque range of attention-getting disguises, from the polyester pimp getup in which he first appears to the lisping gay-Euro routine used to con the gang’s way into the prison kitchen.

Shooting in Abu Dhabi and Dubai adds stunning production value to a movie that harbors some fairly retrograde views of Arabs, as when Pace describes the Misfits’ challenge thus: “You want me to go into a Middle Eastern country that is filled with terrorists to steal their gold?” Granted, he’s meant to be an imperfect character, but the movie feels like both an advertisement for this posh, ultra-modern oasis and a late-20th-century smear of the people and culture one might expect to find there. By the time a headscarved Cannon appears in Arab drag, the movie feels positively prehistoric.

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