At Quality 16 & Showcase
2 out of 5 stars
“Righteous Kill” is a movie that was made with a specific audience in mind. Specifically, the filmmakers are trying to reel in the (mostly male) fans of old-school Robert DeNiro or Al Pacino movies like “The Godfather II” (1974) or “Scarface” (1983). These are the people who are going to be excited by the prospect of the two screen legends finally sharing more than one scene together in a film about cops, guns and other dirty, manly things.
The premise is attractive enough: DeNiro and Pacino play two partners working for the NYPD detective force. They have seen too many guilty people go free and, because of this, they’ve developed a self-righteous sense of vigilante justice. An inspired moment comes early on when the two of them frame an acquitted child-murderer for a separate crime he didn’t commit just to put him behind bars. This twisted sense of right and wrong is intriguing to explore, but is never fully developed like it should in Russell Gewirtz’s (“Inside Man”) script.
Instead, what drives the plot is a serial killer within the force who’s taking down the bad guys that go free and leaving behind corny, egotistical poems as a calling card. Apparently, the One-Stop Movie Villain Shop was all out of Joker cards. While it’s impossible to get into details without revealing a big switcheroo at the end, it must be said that this film’s “twist” is particularly mediocre. In fact, it cheats the audience by working against its own logic just so it can pull the wool over our eyes later. Good twist endings should never feel cheap because they’re supposed to respect the rules laid out by the rest of the story. They should be surprising but still consistent with the logic of what’s come before them. The twist here, once revealed, makes the character’s actions and reactions to previous events seem nonsensical.
Not helping matters are most of the film’s supporting players. Carla Gugino (“American Gangster”) is certainly pretty and suitably intimidating as a police officer, but when she’s playing DeNiro’s much younger lover the only accurate description is “icky.” Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson (“Get Rich or Die Tryin’”) is also here portraying a drug dealer, but his tenacity is undercut by the fact that he has difficulty pronouncing his lines. Odd, for someone whose day job involves precisely articulating massive quantities of words in a short amount of time.
To a certain extent, “Righteous Kill” lives up to its promise. There are plenty of guns and violence, along with f-bombs, awkwardly staged sex scenes and enough growling by the leads to make the screen fog up with testosterone. Most importantly, DeNiro and Pacino share plenty of scenes together, and they have an incredibly commanding screen presence despite the fact that they’re both pushing 70. The problem is that the actual movie they’ve wandered into isn’t very cohesive or particularly effective as a thriller. Plus, there’s not much going for it once the initial excitement of seeing the two together wears off.
This is certainly a step up for director Jon Avnet, whose previous film was the abominable “88 Minutes” (also starring Pacino). And for some, the star appeal and promise of a ’70s-style hard-boiled “man movie” will be enough to sustain “Righteous Kill.” However, there are those of us who know that these two actors, and this genre, are capable of so much more. Someday, perhaps, they will get the return to form they deserve.