- Rated R
- Buy the DVD
All photos © Overture Films
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
t’s been 13 years since Robert De Niro and Al Pacino first shared the screen in Michael Mann’s “Heat,” and even then, that was a bit of a tease. So when news broke that two of the industry’s most respected actors would be co-starring in a new film together, the hype surrounding the project reached boiling point. That is, until director Jon Avnet (“88 Minutes”) joined the production, followed shortly by rapper-turned-actor Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson. Anticipation for the film has been dwindling ever since, and though it was entirely possible that “Righteous Kill” would turn out better than expected, not even its dynamic top billing can prevent the film from feeling like yet another generic cop thriller.
The film stars Robert De Niro as Turk, a veteran New York police detective who has just confessed to 14 murders via a video recording being played to Internal Affairs. Turk’s story actually begins much earlier than that when, after a child rapist gets off scot-free, he frames the guy for another crime. Turk’s partner, Rooster (Pacino), wants nothing to do with his crooked tactics, but he’s willing to protect him anyway because they're friends. Now, the duo must track down a vigilante serial killer who’s murdering criminals who have also escaped jail time. The only problem is that Turk’s the guy they’re chasing, and when another pair of detectives (played by John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg) sniff out the truth behind the murders, everyone involved is thrown into a game of cat and mouse where nothing is what it seems.
Of course, when your film is written by the same guy responsible for “Inside Man,” it’s not at all surprising to discover that some twists are in store. The problem with “Righteous Kill,” however, is that it’s too much like “Inside Man.” Russell Gewirtz structures the story in much the same way, with an opening confession from his main character, so that when the big twist does arrive, most of the audience has already figured it out for themselves. Then again, when the movie so effortlessly fingers De Niro's character as the killer, and then continues to pound that theory into the audience’s head for the remainder of the film, it becomes clear that no matter what happens, there’s no way it can be him. That only leaves a few other suspects, and it’s relatively easy to pare down the list when you realize that Gewirtz has employed a cheeky storytelling device that masks the real killer’s identity.
Plot issues aside, “Righteous Kill” is every bit the actor’s showcase that many were expecting. That’s not to say that De Niro or Pacino deliver some of their best work here (heck, they haven’t headlined a good movie in nearly a decade), but the duo has an undeniable chemistry that really makes you wonder why it took so long to get them back together. The banter between them is light and fun, and though De Niro gets the meatier role of the two, Pacino is clearly having a good time as his wisecracking partner. (The fact that the script originally called for a veteran-rookie team-up is likely the reason for this disparity). Both John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg are also effective in their roles as the suspicious detectives, but Carla Gugino and Curtis Jackson (who gets third billing!) have such meaningless parts to play in the grand scheme of things that their characters are never fully developed. It’s probably for the best, because even though “Righteous Kill” delivers the dream team reunion of De Niro and Pacino, the actors would have been better off waiting another 13 years for something a little more deserving of such a historic event.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
There’s no big twist awaiting you on the single-disc release of “Righteous Kill,” which features a slapdash collection of extras that doesn’t really tell you much about the film. What you see is what you get, including a lousy audio commentary by director Jon Avnet (who seems constantly out of breath), a making-of featurette (“The Investigation”), and a documentary about “the darker side of the force.”