Anchor Bay // 2008 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // January 12th, 2009
"He trades in sin,
He picks the fruit
When it is fresh.
Now someone else
Must slap his whore.
His heart has stopped,
He breathes no more."
-- Greeting card-like message of terror left by a serial-killing cop at an evil pimp's death scene
In their first film as co-stars, The Godfather: Part II, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino did not share one scene together. In their next, Heat, their shared screen time was spare, but potent. Now, in Righteous Kill, they're together maybe 90 percent of the film. What's next for these two, a biopic about famous Siamese twins Chang and Eng?
I wish. It certainly couldn't be any more ridiculous than Righteous Kill, which, among other things, shows us that a little De Niro/Pacino goes a long way.
"Rooster" (Al Pacino, Carlito's Way) and "Turk" (Robert De Niro, Meet the Fockers) are cops, longtime partners. They've seen the usual catalogue of street horrors and injustices, and now, one of them is out to even the score. Criminals who've been unfairly cut loose by the justice system, beware -- there's a serial-killing cop out there who sees each of you as a Righteous Kill. Not only that, but he leaves a little rhyming message with each slay, taking the concept of White Rap to a new and uncomfortable level.
Naturally, this wave of killings brings on the attention of the rest of the police force, with two younger cops (Donnie Wahlberg and John Leguizamo) on the case. These two suspect that the volatile Turk is involved in the killings, particularly since every victim had a connection to him, and in many cases, he was seen threatening them.
But old pros Turk and Rooster have a few surprises for these self-righteous upstarts -- and for each other.
It's tough out there for aging icons. Our reverence is tangled up in past glories, and what they do in the present is usually greeted with more respect than genuine excitement. Bob Dylan might have won an Oscar for a song in Wonder Boys, and the Rolling Stones can still sell out tours, but "Things Have Changed" isn't going to make anyone forget Blonde on Blonde, and nothing from A Bigger Bang is going to supplant "Sympathy for the Devil."
Most actors go through an awkward period when they get older. Some retire, making only occasional "special" appearances; others seem hellbent on running their reps into the ground. Witness "greatest actor ever" Laurence Olivier, whose late-in-life output included jaw-droppers like The Besty, The Jazz Singer, Clash of the Titans, and Inchon.
In Righteous Kill, someone roped acting giants Pacino and De Niro into taking on a tired, hackneyed script and delivering two of the worst performances of their careers. From the title -- which sounds like it was concocted by Bill S. Preston, Esq. -- to the cheesy "flashy" editing, to the droning, ever-present score, to the gimmicky poem-on-a-corpse motif, to the "gotcha!" plot twist so mind-bogglingly obvious that it makes The Village seem like The Crying Game, this is one miserable movie.
De Niro and Pacino play guys who are supposed to be so close they essentially breathe within each other, partners for decades, and so forth. Remarkably, the two have no chemistry here. A lot of this has to do with the wretched dialogue from writer Russell Gewirtz, whose work on Spike Lee's Inside Man couldn't be more different. This is a lazy, tedious script in which pseudo-gritty platitudes pass for characterization and every point is hashed and rehashed until its run into the ground.
Pacino and De Niro don't mitigate the badness, they accentuate the badness. The two stars are just not right on any level. Their performances are out of synch. Pacino is so broad, you half expect him to burst into song -- or flames -- while De Niro's performance is of the "don't operate heavy machinery" variety. It doesn't help that, nearing 70, they are just too old for the parts. Perhaps their characters are supposed to be in their 50s, but the unfortunate wealth of close-ups -- this must have been brutal on a theater screen -- slaughters that illusion. They talk about being on the force for 30 years, which would have made them around 40 when they joined up. Further muddying the waters of gerontology is the grisly sexual pairing of De Niro and Carla Gugino, who plays a CSI-er with a kinky streak.
Guiltiest of all is director Jon Avnet, who helmed Pacino's previous personal worst, 88 Minutes. Avnet's style here is the worst kind of direct-to-video or late-night cable generic.
Righteous Kill could just as easily have been a forgettable Steven Seagal programmer, maybe co-starring Dolph Lundgren. Or, it could have kept Richard Grieco off the unemployment line for a few weeks, maybe with Steve Austin or Brian Bosworth along for the ride. Better still, they could have teamed up those pioneers of shoddy DtV thrillers, Marc (The Beastmaster) Singer and Andrew (Night Eyes) Stevens -- a pairing perhaps less prestigious but no less historic, in its way. At least, some of us would consider it historic to get the stars of Body Chemistry and Point of Seduction: Body Chemistry III together in the same film. If they'd also cast Gregory Harrison, star of Body Chemistry II: The Voice of a Stranger and Shannon Tweed (Body Chemistry 4: Full Exposure) in supporting roles and gotten these four titans home video to do a commentary, then my pick for Best Guilty Pleasure of 2009 would have been decided real early.
I digress, but that's really the only way to approach Righteous Kill.
Anchor Bay puts together a good little package. The transfer is fine, even though the picture itself isn't much to look at, and the 5.1 audio track does the job. Dialogue is clear, gunshots are loud, and the droning and typical ever-present music score is audible. A commentary with director Jon Avnet is about what you'd expect for this sort of thing, lots of praise and self-reverence. It's as though he's talking about a different movie.
"The Investigation: An In-Depth Look at Righteous Kill" is a making-of/circle jerk of a piece with lots of cast and crew members talking about how they've apotheosized by working with De Niro and Pacino; even a guy who does little more than play a corpse gets to spew iconic here. "The Thin Blue Line: An Exploration of Cops and Criminals" is a very interesting, A&E-type doc about crooked cops. You might not agree with its bleak and negative outlook on police officers, but this 19-minute piece is the best part of this disc. It was made specifically to be watched alongside Righteous Kill, and it's funny watching the producers try to shoehorn the movie and documentary together, even though they really have very little to do with each other.
If you're going to bring together two "legends," then give them something to do. Righteous Kill is just an uninspired genre exercise.
"A film devoid of all respect
Of beauty, charm, or intellect.
It squanders stars, it's not a hit
You shouldn't waste your time with it."
Or, as the Righteous Killer might say, guilty.
Review content copyright © 2009 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R