Anchor Bay // 2008 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // January 12th, 2009
Most people respect the badge. Everybody respects the gun.
Besides all the summer blockbusters (The Dark Knight, Iron Man, etc.), 2008 was a great year for comedies. Tropic Thunder took the piss out of Hollywood, while the unlikely hit Pineapple Express updated the stoner-comedy genre perfectly. Now I have the distinct pleasure of reviewing one of 2008's better comedies, the pitch-perfect parody of the police procedural, Righteous Kill.
Two veteran cops, Rooster (Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman) and Turk (Robert De Niro, Raging Bull), are on the trail of a serial killer targets criminals. The most likely suspect in the killings is another cop, and Turk's bad temper and penchant for justice makes him the perfect patsy for the clean killings. With the help of two younger detectives (John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg) and forensics expert Karen (Carla Gugino, Sin City), Rooster and Turk need to catch the killer before they have to surrender their badges.
Man, Righteous Kill is hilarious. This is the best parody of police films since the Emilio Estevez vehicle National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon 1. It's just that good. But I'll break it down for you, since there are three main elements that make Righteous Kill a stone-classic comedy:
The plot of Righteous Kill is so ridiculous you'll be laughing from the opening scene. I mean every one has seen a cop film where only the bad guys get killed, right? Not only that, but the killer leaves bad high school poetry on all the victims. It's so pathetic you have to laugh. Then, there's Turk's "confession," which is how the film starts, with Robert De Niro mugging for the camera. The film pushes this confession so hard that you know from the first moment that he can't actually be the killer, that there must be some "twist." It was so perfect I actually expected John Cleese to walk out halfway through the film and slap the real killer in the face with a red herring. De Niro's "confession" brings me to the next point...
This is some of the funniest dialogue I've ever sat through. The "poems" left on the victims almost made me wet myself. Here's a sample, from when a pimp is murdered:
He trades in sin, distributes flesh
He picks his fruit when it is fresh,
Now someone else must slap his whore,
His heart has stopped he breathes no more.
I mean if that's not supposed to be funny, then I don't know funny. Then there's that wonderfully over-the-top line "Most people respect the badge. Everyone respects the gun." If that isn't some high parody, then I don't know what is. It helps that De Niro delivers it in his best take-me-seriously growl. It gave me chills right before I burst out into laughter. And Mr. De Niro brings me to the final aspect of the comedic trinity...
Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are in rare form for Righteous Kill. Amazingly, Pacino underacts the entire film, never giving the audience one of his trademark "I'm losing it" kind of speeches. De Niro plays his best stupid-bruiser since Jake La Motta almost three decades ago. It's all funny because they're both so bad. They're having so much fun chewing scenery and living in the film's silly world that they forgot to be actors. The film is also funny because Donnie Wahlberg actually gives the film's most sincere detective performance, showing up both Pacino and De Niro. Donnie Wahlberg acting better than Pacino and De Niro is just hilarious.
The comedy gets a little stale with Karen, the love interest. The film has some fun with the fact that she likes rough sex, and that's pretty funny, but her treatment by the end of the film was a bummer and ruined an otherwise excellent comedic atmosphere.
I'm a serious journalist, and after hours of diligent searching, I discovered that Righteous Kill wasn't supposed to be a comedy. Whoops.
As a straight thriller, Righteous Kill fails pretty spectacularly, mainly for all the reasons listed above. The plot is pathetic in its predictability, I've heard better dialogue in a high school play, and the acting from the leads has a very prominent "paycheck" aura. Couple that with Jon Avnet's lackluster direction, and you've got a recipe for a waste of time. For the one-two punch of 88 Minutes and Righteous Kill, Avnet should probably have his Director's Guild membership suspended.
The Blu-ray disc is a fine presentation of the film. Considering the recent vintage of the picture, the video transfer is unsurprisingly strong. Detail is generally high, colors are strong (though a bit on the cool side, probably by directorial intent), and black stay consistent despite the general presence of dark scenes. The video has a slightly gritty edge to it, but that suits the overall tone perfectly. The audio serves the film equally well, with a fine balance between dialogue and effects. The extras are not very extensive, but they provide a decent overview of the production. "The Investigation" is your standard making-of featurette, covering the film's creation, with special emphasis on the historic team-up of De Niro and Pacino. There's also an audio commentary with Jon Avnet. He does a good job providing background on the film. The other major extra is a featurette called "The Thin Blue Line," which looks at the relationship between cops and criminals. It has little to do with Righteous Kill, but it is an interesting peek into police psychology. The final extra on disc one is the film's trailer. Disc Two contains a digital copy of the film for those interested.
Righteous Kill isn't all bad. It's actually rather fun, but only if you don't try to take it seriously. Fans who have been waiting for the ultimate team-up of De Niro and Pacino are almost certain to leave disappointed, as neither is doing his best work here. For those willing to see the goofy side of the film, Righteous Kill provides some entertainment, and a great performance by Carla Gugino. This Blu-ray disc couples a strong audiovisual presentation with some decent extras.
Righteous Kill is anything but righteous and should probably be killed. Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Audio Commentary
* Theatrical Trailer
* Digital Copy