It’s hard to recognize Simon Pegg in Inheritance, playing a shaggy-haired wraith locked in a dungeon for 30 years. Once he cleans up a little and shows his face, it becomes even harder to understand what he’s doing in this movie, which is a grim study in plot holes and casting gone awry.

The story of how his character ended up in that dungeon is the mystery that drives the first half of the movie, when a young woman (Lily Collins) inherits a key to a hidden bunker following her father’s un-timely death. That young woman, Lauren, also happens to be the District Attorney of Manhattan, a career choice which disappointed her shady father, who made his fortune lawyering for even shadier clients. Collins is an appealing actor, but she’s badly miscast in this role. With all the gravitas of a col-lege freshman dressed up for her first job interview, she displays none of the confidence or cleverness that one would imagine to be a prerequisite for the job of New York City’s top cop. In scene after scene, she’s reduced to sputters and tears, outwitted and overmatched by nearly everyone she tangles with.

When Pegg’s scruffy Morgan turns up chained to the wall in the secret bunker she inherited, it seems like a chance for Lauren to exercise her naive idealism and right her father’s wrongs. Pegg affects a flat American twang which serves to disguise him until Lauren gives him a haircut. Their interactions dole out a fair amount of tension as she puts together the story of how he ended up imprisoned beneath her backyard. There are twists, of course, and things are not quite what they seem, but none of that is sur-prising.

What does surprise is how illogically the characters behave, as if compelled to act in service of a screen-play instead of their own free will. Everyone is conniving or evil, the story suggests, and that’s all the motivation they need to do their dastardly deeds—except for poor, innocent Lauren, who gets hood-winked again and again by everyone around her. A lugubrious score and dim lighting lend the story more weight than it can carry.

The one person having fun, it seems, is Pegg. He gnashes his teeth and turns his lines into zingers. For some reason, he repeats a recipe for key lime pie as a kind of mantra, a quirk that defies interpretation and leads nowhere. As nonsensical as the role is, Pegg seems to relish the chance to play a sinister weirdo instead of the bumbling but lovable Brit he’s better known for. He’s lean and menacing and brimming with dangerous secrets. In a better movie, this would be his Keyser Söze moment, but a se-ries of baffling reversals near the end saps the tension and leaves you wondering what could have been.

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