What happens when someone in Hollywood gets a great idea, but the execution of said idea becomes mismanaged, resulting in an essentially half-hearted attempt at a movie? Well, one could say that the outcome would resemble something similar to the mind-numbingly formulaic, contrived, and completely devoid of any thrills thriller known as “Righteous Kill” starring screen legends Robert DeNiro (“Goodfellas”) and Al Pacino (“The Godfather” trilogy).
“Righteous Kill” centers upon two detectives, “Turk” (Robert DeNiro) and “Rooster” (Al Pacino), longtime partners within the NYPD for over 30 years. For these two decorated officers the streets shouldn’t be able to offer them any new surprises; that is until several known criminals begin getting murdered by an alleged vigilante. To make matters worse, the dead bodies are all tied to cases the pair had solved over their many years on the force, prompting many in the department to wonder if one of their own has gone over the edge.
Prior to viewing this film I began to notice some rather strange omissions from the trailers preceding the impending release upon DVD and Blu-ray. Namely, the lack of any critical praise being thrown about; of course, this makes perfect sense given that a vast majority of film critics blasted the movie to pieces. With a growing sense that perhaps this movie is as lackluster as the critics had said it was, I found that my eagerness to see it was waning significantly. Yet, like a glutton for punishment I decided to sit down one night to see it for myself, because even though the movie was almost universally panned, I still like to make my own judgments about a film. Needless to say, after watching “Righteous Kill” I find myself in complete agreement with the majority of the critics, and wondering why on Earth did this film ever see the light of day, let alone find its way into the hands of two of Hollywood’s icons?
To attempt to understand where this film went wrong we must first look at the base on which the film stands… the screenplay. Next to the involvement of actors Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino, the other big surprise surrounding this film was the fact that the script was written by the man who penned the outstanding heist film “Inside Man”, writer Russell Gewirtz. After crafting such an entertaining thriller full of twists and turns and originality, I’m surprised that Gewirtz’s follow-up would essentially embody the antithesis of all that was great about his previous script. With “Righteous Kill” there is nary a hint of originality, in place of that is an abundance of predictability that causes all of the potential twists and turns that the story will no doubt throw at the audience to fail due to the sheer obviousness of the proceedings.
On top of that is the fact that the only way any sense of suspense was created in this film was through a contrived plot device where several of the characters are referred to solely by their nicknames. This way the viewer doesn’t know who is really who until the final moments of the film. It is this manufactured form of suspense that made me feel especially disappointed for two reasons. One, I can’t think of a single person whose nickname is the only name by which they are called; and second, if Russell Gewirtz didn’t want certain people’s identities being truly known until the end, there are much more natural ways to achieve this. For instance, many people don’t even refer to someone by name when talking to them, especially if they are very familiar with them. So, in the movie the nickname device could have still been used in conjunction with just casual conversation where no names are ever mentioned. This way the dialogue could still feel natural, and the unknown identities would still be a form of manufactured suspense, but one far less obvious and annoying.
Now lets move on to the director of this travesty, the much maligned (by me, that is) Jon Avnet, director of the abominable “88 Minutes”. From what I have been able to gather after watching Jon’s last two attempts at feature films, if it weren’t for the surprisingly talented cast members he is able to ensnare, his films would most likely wind up on rental shelves or never even see the light of day in the first place. I find myself completely surprised that this man is able to get such high-caliber actors and actresses to flesh out his roles. Granted his track record of television shows (“Boomtown” for instance) is a bit more impressive, even if his shows haven’t been the longest lasting, at least they were compelling; and it is conceivable that news of the utter crap-fest that was “88 Minutes” was not made known until after it was too late and those involved in this film were already signed. With those two thoughts in mind, they may serve as an explanation as to why Pacino and DeNiro would even consider joining up with such a hack director; although Pacino by all rights should have already figured out that this guy didn’t have a clue after his time spent headlining the previous film. Whatever the case may be for why this man still has work coming to him in Hollywood, from my perspective he’s had his first and second chances, and massively blown them both, so I can’t understand why he isn’t just shown the door or at least his way onto the B-list, a.k.a. the Direct-to-DVD list.
As I stated before, the biggest surprise of all surrounding this movie, was the involvement of Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. The last time these two screen legends had acted opposite each other was in the superbly crafted “Heat” from director Michael Mann. Here we are 13 years later, and what should have been one of the greatest Hollywood reunions of all time, is wasted in a movie that is well below their considerable talents. Although some could argue that neither actor has been at the top of their game in quite some time; I still believed that their common sense would have told them to run away from this mess before it is too late. But I guess I would have been wrong on that count. Which leads me to wonder if these two acting giants have lost the drive that once made them such forces to be reckoned with, and is it too late for them to reclaim what they appear to have lost?
I will say that even though this film is well below the standards of their prime, both Pacino and DeNiro did give decent performances. However, I would have to say that neither one seemed too committed to their respective role, but at least they weren’t just overtly going through the motions without a care, as they have done in some of their recent work (i.e. “88 Minutes”). Joining them we have actress Carla Gugino (“Sin City”) who serves the purpose of being nothing more than the eye candy of the film. Her role doesn’t really offer anything to the proceedings, and the one point in the story when it seems her character may have some relevance after all, is squandered in the end. Other supporting cast members include Donnie Wahlberg (“Saw 2”) and John Leguizamo (“The Happening”) as two other police officers with ties to some of the various criminals being murdered. I’m sure their characters were intended to serve as compelling antagonists to Pacino and DeNiro’s, but in the end both of them appear as bland and uninspired as the rest of the production, despite the efforts of Leguizamo and Wahlberg. Lastly, Brian Dennehy appears in a thankless role so small that it is almost relegated to cameo status as the boss/friend of “Turk” and “Rooster”. Brian Dennehy is a talented actor who has always managed to entertain no matter the role; yet in this film even he can’t make a miracle happen and his choice for signing onto this project seems just as bewildering as the two leads.
It’s a shame that such a large amount of talent was wasted on such a generic movie as “Righteous Kill”, and truth be told had the star power associated with this film not been involved, I have no doubt that most people never would have heard of the movie and it would have found its way directly on to rental shelves instead of in theaters. Now, if you have not seen a mystery/thriller or any kind of cop movie or television program, then perhaps you will find “Righteous Kill” to be outstanding; however, if you have seen any of the aforementioned, then you will most likely find this film to be just as dull and boring as I did.
“Righteous Kill” is rated R for violence, language, and sexuality.