The detachment in Robert De Niro and Al Pacino's eyes is evident from the opening moments of Righteous Kill. They instinctively know this bloated, brainless thriller is a piece of crap, but there they are, front and center, gnawing on the scenery and spewing enough profanity to make "Deadwood"'s Al Swearengen blush. The film, barely worthy of a 2 a.m. slot on pay cable, is a feeble attempt to harness some of the excitement that surrounded the actors' pairing up in Michael Mann's 1995 opus Heat. I'll save some suspense: You'd be better off watching Heat again or even The Godfather Part II. What does it say about both De Niro and Pacino that Righteous Kill, easily one of the worst films of 2008, is really the best either of them can do these days in Hollywood?
Sadly, it says these guys have long since given up on anything approaching acting and seem far more interested in easy paychecks that require nothing more than coasting on past glories. Righteous Kill, written by Russell Gewirtz (who penned the equally "eh" Inside Man) and directed by Jon Avnet (who, by my estimation, hasn't created much worth watching since ... what ... 1994?), wants desperately to be an urban, edgy drama stippled with gruesome set pieces and big, narrative twists that leave viewers dazed, but in reality, all this flick really manages to be is an amped-up version of "Law & Order."
De Niro and Pacino star as veteran New York City detectives -- that's Turk and Rooster, respectively, to you -- who find themselves chasing a serial killer that's offing, shall we say, the more undesirable elements of the criminal underworld. Pimps, pedophiles and rapists are finding themselves dead and the top brass (Brian Dennehy) just want the case to go away. Of course, the filmmakers plant the seed that it could be a cop murdering all these grungy types (I hope to never again see a film that somehow wrangles a cast that includes 50 Cent, Carla Gugino, Melissa Leo, Donnie Wahlberg and Rob Dyrdek -- yes, of "Rob & Big" fame) and spend the remaining 95 minutes dragging viewers through a muddled, ho-hum plot that revolves around the cops' attempts to finish out the case before the killer strikes again.
Spiced with rough sex, glam thugs and torrents of profanity that might even bore David Mamet, Righteous Kill falls victim to just about every cop movie cliche in existence. There's the tight partnership, the big expositional scene just before a climactic shooting, the code of honor among officers -- so on and so forth. There isn't an actor in this thing that comes out smelling like a rose -- Gugino is wasted, but then you could say that about everyone from De Niro on down. The whole film just feels like a complete and utter waste of time, money and effort. It's not compelling, engaging or even slightly original.
Of course, this won't be the last cash-grab film either De Niro or Pacino probably makes -- the pair's best work is behind them, it seems. While De Niro keeps searching out quirky pet projects (like the recently ignored What Just Happened?) and Pacino occasionally rises above the dreck (The Merchant of Venice, Angels in America), too much of both men's filmography is littered with sad, useless trash like this.
Presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, Righteous Kill is gorgeous, glossy and sharp, a perfectly presented dud. It's a shame that most viewers will have difficulty focusing on the film, given its deadly dull storyline and leaden acting, since it does look quite crisp and clean, befitting a recently filmed production. Nothing to complain about here.
Matching the spiffy visuals step for step is the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that delivers plenty of bang for the buck, conveying all the shouted conversations, gun fire and ominous score with no distortion or drop-out. Everything sounds nicely balanced and the sound-field is appropriately immersive. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are included.
Director/producer Jon Avnet contributes a pretty straightforward, if strangely hushed, commentary track that touches all the expected bases (although I didn't hear any kind of apology in there; what's up with that, Jon?), discussing the project's origins, the behind-the-scenes work and constructing the twisty narrative (with pretentious references to literary devices). The 14 minute, 23 second featurette "The Investigation: An In-Depth Look at Righteous Kill" (presented in anamorphic widescreen) is standard-issue making-of stuff, while the 19 minute, five second featurette "The Thin Blue Line: An Exploration of Cops & Criminals" (presented in anamorphic widescreen) that details the murky world of police officers and the temptation to cross over into evil deeds. The film's theatrical trailer is here, in anamorphic widescreen. An insert pimping Traitor, the Tutima Flieger Chronograph 2 watch featured in the film and a chapter listing is also included.
The detachment in Robert De Niro and Al Pacino's eyes is evident from the opening moments of Righteous Kill. They instinctively know this bloated, brainless thriller is a piece of crap, but there they are, front and center, gnawing on the scenery and spewing enough profanity to make "Deadwood"'s Al Swearengen blush. The film, barely worthy of a 2 a.m. slot on pay cable, is a feeble attempt to harness some of the excitement that surrounded the actors' pairing up in Michael Mann's 1995 opus Heat. What does it say about both De Niro and Pacino that this, easily one of the worst films of 2008, is really the best either of them can do these days in Hollywood? Skip it.