Movie Review: Righteous Kill

By Matthew Huntley

September 23, 2008

Martin Scorsese regrets talking smack about De Niro and Pacino's career choices.

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Over the past couple months, there's been a lot of hype and secrecy surrounding Righteous Kill. Why? Because it marks only the third time Robert De Niro and Al Pacino have appeared in the same film. (The Godfather Part II and Heat were the other two, although Heat was the only one in which both actors appeared on-screen at the same time.) I wish I could say I was excited about their reunion, but these icons haven't had the greatest track record lately, at least not compared to their '70s heydays.

Yes, De Niro and Pacino are screen legends, and I don't think anybody would deny that. But these days, their names atop a marquee don't exactly guarantee quality. Both have starred in several lame-brained genre pictures in the past decade and their latest, unfortunately, is just another one to add to the list.

In Righteous Kill, De Niro and Pacino play Turk and Rooster, a couple of veteran NYPD detectives, each with 30 years experience under his belt. Turk (De Niro) is the more belligerent and unforgiving of the two, a hard-nosed flatfoot with a chip on his shoulder and a lot of pent up rage. Rooster (Pacino), his partner, is gentler and more willing to turn the other cheek. He's used to calming Turk down with a couple pats on the back, but apparently even he can't appease Turk's full dark side.

When the film opens, Turk speaks to a security camera and admits he's killed 14 people in all his years as a police officer, confessing some of these have been recent and unlawful, but perhaps not unjustified. He admits he's become a self-anointed vigilante and consciously killed a wave of thugs the justice system has failed to put away.

Turk's rampage supposedly began when a rapist and murderer of a 13-year-old was found not guilty due to a phony alibi and lack of evidence. Turk decided to take matters into his own hands and plant evidence at the suspect's home. Rooster sat on the side and watched his partner go against his sworn oath. From that point on, supposedly, Turk continued to go outside the law for justice, killing a series of bad guys in cold blood. However, the movie never actually shows him do this, nor does it show him writing the grisly poems found at every murder scene.

Has Turk really made it his mission to kill the killers? His lover, a forensics detective named Karen Corelli (Carla Gugino), and two younger detectives, Riley (Donnie Wahlberg) and Perez (John Leguizamo), start to gather evidence that incriminates him. Turk's boss, Lieutenant Hingis (Brian Dennehy), feels pressured to put one of his best detectives on restricted duty. Will Rooster let his partner go down?


Another player in this cockamamie plot is a drug dealer and club owner named Spider (Curtis Jackson, a.k.a. 50 Cent). Jackson, who is a good actor (see Get Rich Or Die Tryin'), is unfortunately under-utilized here and I'm willing to bet he was cast merely to lure in African American moviegoers. His character, like all the characters, is under-written and we know little about him. After a while, I didn't even know the reason why he was still in the movie other than the plot required him to be.

As early as the 1/3 mark, the routine mechanics of Righteous Kill start to kick in and I watched it become just another thriller that was content with jerking the audience around instead of being smart and crafty with its misdirection. I can't say much else without resorting to plot spoilers, but the "shocking" ending isn't worth sitting through the other 100 minutes.

Simply put, the plot and characters of Righteous Kill are not interesting, and that's probably because we've see them several times before. Heck, in a time when there are three different versions of Law & Order and CSI on television, it's hard to escape this genre. In fact, Righteous Kill practically feels like an imitation of those two shows. Instead of being a social commentary, or a thoughtful story about friendship and loyalty, or a hard-edged, introspective detective drama, it ends up as a routine potboiler.

As for De Niro and Pacino, these roles weren't huge stretches for them and they've essentially played these characters before. The other actors do what they can, but we all know they're above this material.

To be fair, I wouldn't say Righteous Kill is painful or boring; it's simply below average and never tries to be anything more. It didn't make me angry, but it also didn't make me excited. Director Jon Avnet doesn't incorporate much style or intelligence behind it and I grew numb as it jumped through all the usual hoops.

Is this really what all the hoopla was about? Next time, the filmmakers should concentrate on stimulating us with an original story rather than bragging about the pairing of its leads. Maybe then the film will justify the hype.



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