by Mel Valentin
Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, Oscar winners both, have appeared in the same film only two times in careers spanning four decades, "Godfather II" in 1974 and "Heat" in 1995. In "Godfather II," De Niro and Pacino didn’t appear together on screen (De Niro portrayed a younger version of Marlon Brando’s godfather character, Don Corleone) and in "Heat" they shared screen time (and space) only twice (in the diner scene and at the climax). Given the individual accolades both actors have received and their parallel careers (both came to prominence in the early 1970s), why they haven’t appeared together again has been frustrating for their fans. Unfortunately, their first significant collaboration since "Heat," "Righteous Kill," is an underwhelming, uninspired serial killer/cop thriller that neither actor will consider anything except another paycheck role.Directed by Jon Avnet (88 Minutes, Red Corner, Up Close & Personal, Fried Green Tomatoes) from a screenplay by Russell Gewirtz (Inside Man), who scored big (literally) with Inside Man, a heist thriller directed by Spike Lee, Righteous Kill centers on two New York City detectives, Turk (Robert De Niro) and Rooster (Al Pacino), longtime partners at the tail end of their careers. With 30 years on the force, Turk and Rooster seem to be marking time until they can either retire or catch a big case that will send them off on a high note. While Turk has a romantic relationship with an attractive forensics expert (as if there’s any other kind) who enjoys rough sex, Karen Corelli (Carla Gugino), Rooster lives for detective work. When an unknown assailant murders a skateboard-riding pimp, Turk and Rooster catch the case. At the crime scene, they discover a poem near the body.
"A long anticipated collaboration that's anything but righteous."
Turk and Rooster’s suspicions are confirmed when several more criminals, each with ties to Turk or Rooster, are murdered. Forced to work with two other detectives, Simon Perez (John Leguizamo) and Ted Riley (Donnie Wahlberg), they dislike, Turk and Rooster begin searching for the serial killer. After Rooster suggests the killer might be a cop or ex-cop, however, newfound evidence points at Turk as the killer. Despite Turk and Rooster’s superior officer, Lieutenant Hingis (Brian Dennehy), reservations and concerns (about his own career), Turk and Rooster, with an assist from and with Corelli, search for the serial killer. They also tangle repeatedly with a major drug dealer and club owner, Spider (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) and a young attorney, Jessica (Trilby Glover), Turk busted on drug possession who might help in putting Spider away.
Righteous Kill is everything fans of De Niro, Pacino, or the serial killer/cop thriller didn’t want to see. It’s lackluster, lethargic, flaccid, and ultimately dull. It becomes quickly apparent that Righteous Kill is an undistinguished collaboration between journeyman director Jon Avnet, screenwriter Russell Gewirtz, and, of course, De Niro and Pacino. Gewirtz’s screenplay is a step backward from his work on his first film. It has little of the wit, character development or the clever payoff that made Inside Man so watchable despite several flaws. Gewirtz leaves no cliché unused here, from the profane dialogue the cops use (to reflect “realism”), to the emotionally scarred, rough sex-obsessed forensic expert, to the various visual and verbal cues that give away the killer’s identity early on.Maybe Gewirtz isn’t to blame for the onscreen results or at least not entirely. Maybe Avnet made changes to the screenplay that undermined what Gewirtz was trying to do. Maybe De Niro and Pacino influenced screenplay revisions (the by now familiar Pacino monologue at the climax is present here). Maybe Avnet gave De Niro and Pacino too much deference when directing them. Whatever the reason, "Righteous Kill" is a sub-mediocre effort that both De Niro and Pacino aren’t likely to include as a career highlight when they’re no longer working in Hollywood. Unfortunately, that day is fast approaching: De Niro is 65 and Pacino is 68. Both look good for their respective ages, even if they appear too old for their roles as NYC detectives. There’s still time, though, for one or two (or more) solid performances from both actors. Hopefully they realize that now and will be more discriminating in selecting their next roles.
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originally posted: 09/12/08 09:00:00