It took him 40 years, but Robert De Niro finally has made a movie that enables him to utter this line: “Rambo the skateboard pimp was my tenth kill.”
After 30 years as partners in the pressure cooker environment of the NYPD, highly decorated detectives David Fisk and Thomas Cowan should be ready for ...
Rating: R for violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and brief drug use
Length: 101 minutes
Released: September 12, 2008 Nationwide
Cast: Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Brian Dennehy, John Leguizamo
Director: Jon Avnet
Writer: Russell Gewirtz
But don’t be misled. That snippet of dialogue suggests that “Righteous Kill” — a serial-killer thriller with De Niro and Al Pacino as police detectives — might be campy fun. It’s not. It’s tedious and just plain ugly to look at (the lighting is dim, the sets are boring and the staging is routine). Worse, the “surprise” twist of the mystery plot is so obvious that the only surprise is that the person you figured was the killer about 10 minutes into the movie really is the killer.
Already being derided by online smart alecks as “88 Minutes II” (director Jon Avnet also was responsible for this year’s earlier Al Pacino serial-killer bomb, the universally hooted-at “88 Minutes”), “Righteous Kill” casts De Niro and Pacino — together for the first time since the marvelous “Heat” (1995) — as loyal partners on the hunt for a murderer who is knocking off rapists, child abusers, mobsters and other miscreants who have eluded official justice.
The movie opens with De Niro’s character delivering a taped confession to the crimes. For most of the rest of the story, we are supposed to wonder whether he really is guilty or whether we should shift suspicion to any of the other hoodlums and officers in a cast that includes Carla Gugino, John Leguizamo, Donnie Wahlberg, Brian Dennehy and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson.
De Niro and Pacino routinely are referred to as being among America’s greatest living actors, but, seriously, is anybody worse than these guys are now? People make fun of Cuba Gooding Jr. for derailing his post-Oscar career with such trifles as “Snow Dogs” and “Boat Trip,” but Gooding never appeared in anything comparable to “The Godfather” or “Taxi Driver”; he didn’t have a real legacy to tarnish. In comparison, De Niro has spent the past decade accepting supporting comedy roles and starring in such cookie-cutter projects as “Godsend” and “Hide and Seek.” (I bet those two titles mean absolutely nothing to most of the people reading this.) Unlike John Wayne or Robert Mitchum or Clark Gable in their “mature” years, and unlike his slightly older contemporaries, Jack Nicholson and Gene Hackman, De Niro no longer seems to bring much to his roles beyond that broad signature frown that Paul Rudd imitated so hilariously in “Knocked Up.”
Pacino, typically, is even worse (or better, if you prefer someone who seems disdainful of his own career). Wearing a leather jacket that matches his leathery Rolling Stone countenance, Pacino in “Righteous Kill” seems to have pared his acting repertoire down to two expressions: The first is a disturbing leer; the second is a slack-jawed look of noncomprehension that suggests Harpo Marx. These might be appropriate responses to the material, but if that’s the case, we have to ask: Why did Pacino agree in the first place to star in a project that Wings Hauser might have rejected during the heyday of Vestron Video?
The screenplay (credited to Russell Gewirtz, who wrote Spike Lee’s fine “Inside Man”) contains repeated “Brady Bunch” and “Underdog” references that you just don’t believe are coming from the mouths of hardboiled cops who have been working the mean streets since the 1970s. These “Sally Forth”-level jokes seem to be intended to help the film connect with younger viewers (younger than Brian Dennehy, at least), but that seems unlikely to happen. Watching the less-than-spry De Niro and Pacino pursue clues through dark urban landscapes while spouting profanity suggests that “Righteous Kill” will find its ideal audience in the smallish demographic overlap that connects fans of James Ellroy and “Murder, She Wrote.”
"Righteous Kill" is rated R for violence, profanity and some sex and drug content.