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Righteous Kill (2/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 111 minutes.

There are lots of films with two male stars with reputations equal to Robert De Niro and Al Pacino appearing together. “San Francisco” (1936) and “Boomtown” (1940) with Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy, and “Becket” (1964) with Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole come immediately to mind, although there are many others I could come up with if I put my mind to it. One thing those films had in common is that they were of the highest quality and highly entertaining.

Now we have this much ballyhooed film with De Niro and Pacino. If this dawdling movie stands for anything, it’s that De Niro and Pacino are yesterday’s stars. They are Babe Ruth in 1935, or Joe Namath in 1977, two guys who are over the hill with their best days behind them. Sitting through this 111-minute debacle is akin to watching two amateur comics giving bad impersonations of De Niro and Pacino. Worse, actually, because the comics would at least be funny.

The two stars of yesteryear aren’t helped by a lame, predictable script by Russell Gewirtz and inept directing by Jon Avnet. All the clichés they lump into this thing aren’t disguised by Avnet’s insistence upon CSI-type cinematography that favors extreme close-ups. It appears as if Avnet never heard of a head and shoulder shot. He has his cinematographer (Frenchy Denis Lenoir) zoom in so close so often that the movie often resembles just a bunch of talking heads, one at a time. It might not be fair to lay all the blame on Avnet. With the egos involved with these two huge stars, I wouldn’t be surprised but that they had a lot of input on how large their faces would be onscreen. But what is worse is that I was always aware that De Niro and Pacino were “acting.” This has been a problem with Pacino for quite some time, but now the affliction has been caught by De Niro.

The best thing about the movie was the music by Ed Shearmur. But this film has so many producers (13 are listed in the Production notes!) that they didn’t have room to list Shearmur’s name in the notes. The music produced the only tension in this film. But when the music promises some tension and the film doesn’t produce it, it’s pretty much wasted.

Turk (De Niro) and Rooster (Pacino) have been partners in the NYPD for 30 years. There’s a serial killer on the loose. Is it a cop? Is it Turk? That’s the movie. The plot is just an excuse to have De Niro and Pacino onscreen together for almost every scene, talking with each other. They’ve appeared in two films in the past, “Godfather” (1972), but were never in the same scene, and “Heat,” (1995), but were in only a couple of scenes together. In “Righteous Kill,” they are in the majority of scenes together, but they aren’t scenes I’d ever want to have to sit through again.

Also very disappointing is Brian Dennehy as Lieutenant Hingis, the boss of Turk and Rooster. The 70-year-old Dennehy looks so far beyond the retirement age it wouldn’t have been surprising to see him using a walker. I guess that De Niro and Pacino were so old they had to cast someone who looked even older as their superior.

There’s a truly clumsy baseball scene where they had to use a double for De Niro. De Niro swings at a ball like a girl (give me a break here; that used to be pejorative but after watching the women softballers in the Olympics the past decade, girls now play better baseball than the Dodgers). Then there’s an immediate cut to Turk running to first base shot from behind, so all we see is his back. Clearly, the guy running is in his 20s as he speeds down the baseline like Ty Cobb and Maury Wills used to do. This guy who is running is most definitely not the aging De Niro who was so maladroit in swinging the bat.

This movie is carried by the supporting cast. Carla Gugino (Karen Corelli, Turk’s girlfriend), John Leguizamo (Detective Perez), Donnie Wahlberg (Detective Riley), and 50 Cent (Spider) give performances that deserve better than what they receive from Avnet, Gewirtz, De Niro and Pacino.

If you go to the film expecting more from De Niro and Pacino (like what you got from the aforementioned Gable, Tracy, Burton, and O’Toole), this would be terribly disappointing. I didn’t go in expecting much, although I have to admit I was hopefully looking forward to it. Pacino, lately, has been such a caricature of his former self that I don’t expect anything from him. But because I don’t have much faith in either De Niro or Pacino any more, I wasn’t "terribly" disappointed, just disgusted that I had to spend 111 minutes from start to finish.

September 10, 2008