Producers: Richard Baxter Lewis, David Wulf and Arianne Fraser   Director: Vaughn Stein   Screenplay: Matthew Kennedy   Cast: Lily Collins, Simon Pegg, Chace Crawford, Connie Nielsen, Michael Beach, Marque Richardson, Rebecca Adams, Mariyah Francis, Alec James, Josh Murray and Lydia Hand   Distributor: Vertical Entertainment

Grade:  C-

A skeletons-in-the-closet dynastic thriller in which the major skeleton literally still has meat on its bones, Vaughn Stein’s sophomore feature is equal parts pretension and absurdity.  You’ll want to turn down this “Inheritance.”

The movie starts with an almost insurmountable flaw—the casting of Lily Collins as its central character, Lauren Monroe, the District Attorney for New York City.  Collins might be around thirty, but at least in this movie she looks much younger—and acts it, too, frequently coming across as a shrill-sounding college student.  The fact that Lauren’s not the brightest bulb in the box, despite being in the middle of a huge case, is a further impediment to plausibility. 

Only marginally less incredible is Chace Crawford as her brother William, a U.S. Representative running for re-election.  The actor’s blandness is acceptable in such a position, but his lack of the slightest hint of gravitas is a stumbling-block. 

But that’s secondary to the inanity of Matthew Kennedy’s screenplay.  The picture opens with the sudden death of the Monroe paterfamilias Archer (Patrick Warburton) of a heart attack.  He’s been under investigation for impropriety in which William’s rival argues he could be implicated. 

At the reading of Archer’s will, Lauren is given a special responsibility by the dead man’s long-time lawyer Harold Thewlis (Michael Beach).  It involves a misdeed by Archer that’s unrelated to the accusations against him, and much more perverse.  When Lauren uses a key she’s been bequeathed to investigate a bunker buried in the back yard of the family estate, she finds a man (Simon Pegg) chained to a wall in it, looking as unkempt as a cut-rate Howard Hughes. 

Naturally Lauren is taken aback, and working through why the man has been kept in such dank surroundings for decades takes her away from her official responsibilities (as well, it appears, from her family, husband Scott played by Marque Richardson, and their son). With some prodding and a few little bribes, she eventually gets the man to identify himself as a fellow name Morgan, who was an erstwhile buddy of her dad’s while they were sowing their wild oats together until the night Archer did something that could threaten his future—at which point Archer turned on him and left him as he now is. 

Lauren, a good girl at heart—and, as it turns out, a rather gullible one in many respects despite her supposed political savvy—decides to try to make it up to Morgan for the way her father had treated him. 

“Inheritance” wants to be twisty and surprising, but in the end the only thing surprising about it is how humdrum the twists turn out to be.  We’re doled out information about the past shared by Archer and Morgan in flashbacks (in which the young Archer is played by Josh Murray and the young Morgan by Alec James, with Lydia Hand as the young version of Lauren’s mother Catherine, played in the present by Connie Nielsen), but since we all know how misleading flashbacks can be in a movie like this, they don’t tell us much of value.  And when the “truth” is finally revealed, it turns out to be a rather flat revelation—as is the resolution of the tale, which could just invite a sequel about a whole new bunch of Monroe family secrets—a prospect devoutly to be rejected. 

Actually shot in Alabama, “Inheritance” actually looks quite good.  Diane Millett’s production design is solid, as is Michael Merriman’s cinematography; the Kristi Shimek’s editing is smooth enough, and Marlon E. Espino’s score establishes an appropriate mood of foreboding. 

But in the final analysis there’s only one aspect of the picture that might make it worth a look—the turn by Pegg.  It’s not a good performance by any means—it’s showy in a “hey-mom-look-at-me!” way, and never remotely convincing.  But at least he seems to be having fun with the half-baked material, which the rest of the cast try to play straight.  A pity that Kennedy and Stein do him no favors by prolonging the scene in which he goes totally off the rails to such an extent that it passes from the sublimely ridiculous to just ridiculous.

It’s possible, one supposes, to enjoy the movie for the nonsensical potboiler it is.  But if you do, you’ll probably regret it afterward.