Starring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Curtis Jackson, Carla Gugino, John Leguizamo, Donnie Wahlberg. Rated R.
Beyond a five-minute coffee date
in Michael Mann’s Heat, the pairing of
Robert De Niro and Al Pacino has remained nothing more than a tantalizing
possibility. (The two shared top billing in The Godfather: Part II, but nary a minute
of screen time.) Now, as both actors
enter the twilight of their careers – without much inclination, it seems, to
discriminate between good scripts and bad – they join forces to pursue a serial
killer in the turgid thriller Righteous Kill.
What were they thinking? Were
De Niro and Pacino so determined to work together and so starved for inspiration
that they chose to put their names on the line to rescue this perfunctory mess
from a well-deserved straight-to-DVD future? Or did they actually believe that
their incessant, halfhearted mugging and hammy repartee could invigorate this
dismal slog? De Niro’s once-menacing scowl, which has become a cliché in its own
right, now looks more like something that could be remedied with Metamucil.
Jon Avnet’s latest (after last
spring’s 88 Minutes, another paycheck
Pacino would have been wise to turn down) is often laughably bad, and it is
dismaying to watch two actors of substance struggle to lend weight to
screenwriter Russell Gewirtz’s painfully familiar melodrama. De Niro plays Turk,
a hotheaded New York City detective who still takes his job seriously enough,
after three decades, to turn every investigation into a personal crusade. It’s
up to Rooster (Pacino), his sardonic partner and best friend, to rein him in
when he lurches into overdrive.
If Turk and Rooster sound like
stock characters from a late-night movie of the week, well, the shoe fits.
There’s a vigilante on the loose, of course, one who dispatches his victims
with three bullets and a poetic calling card. (“It’s not iambic pentameter,” a
detective observes, “but it rhymes.”) All signs suggest it’s an inside job, a
cop turned rogue executioner, and Turk’s videotaped confession, which serves as
the framework for this exercise in self-important silliness, leaves little to
the imagination. Still, doubts persist.
Righteous Kill is a tired pastiche
of genre clichés and ideas borrowed
from other D-grade thrillers, a story without style, energy or any discernible
respect for narrative logic. (Avnet’s arbitrary camerawork – the man’s love of
extreme close-ups is second to none – adds little to the proceedings.) It ends,
as one might suspect, with a standoff between De Niro and Pacino that reminds us
not of their tense, richly nuanced exchange in Heat, but of the potential squandered
by this latest bit of
good-cop bad-cop banality.