Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Review - Righteous Kill

Oh dear, did it really have to come to this? The careers of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro have been sliding into mediocrity and beyond for at least a decade now, so the fact that their latest collaboration is nothing special will surprise nobody, but what on earth compelled them to appear in such a miserable dog of a film? Surely they should have realised an onscreen reunion was something that film fans had long been anticipating, and therefore might have put a little extra thought into their choice, but to sign up for such a cheap hackjob is a betrayal of their talents and their status. Righteous Kill is another lazy outing for the two stars, with Pacino coasting by on crumpled charm while De Niro grimaces like man who has been suffering constipation for a month (or two months, in the really intense scenes). In short, they're little more than miniscule variations on the kind of performances the pair have been giving for years, and at this stage in their lives, one wonders if they have anything new to give.

In Righteous Kill, the two stars play tight-knit LAPD detectives who generally go by the nicknames Turk (De Niro) and Rooster (Pacino). They're hunting a serial killer who seems to be targeting undesirable members of the community – crooks, rapists, dealers – who have somehow evaded justice, and this killer has a penchant for lame poetry that he leaves at the scene of the crime. Coincidentally, a number of these victims (including, amusingly, one called "Rambo the Skateboard Pimp") are linked by cases that Turk and Rooster worked in the past, which leaves us with the inevitable question: are the two veteran law enforcers taking justice into their own hands? Young cops John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg certainly think so.

It's a fairly trashy premise as it is, and Russell Gerwirtz's screenplay indulges in cop movie clich├ęs while sketching a narrative that is both laughably silly and despairingly predictable. The film has been directed, if that's the word, by Jon Avnet, a witless hack who stages and edits his scenes in the most rudimentary fashion imaginable, hoping the booming score will distract viewers from the cracks in the picture. The characterisation is almost non-existent – all we learn about De Niro's Turk is that he likes rough sex with fellow cop Carla Gugino (the role she's given is a disgrace), and we don't even get that level of depth when it comes to Rooster. The whole movie just feels like straight-to-DVD junk, with actors such as Brian Dennehy and Oleg Taktarov filling out the decidedly underwhelming cast. Speaking of underwhelming performances, rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson remarkably manages to display even less emotion in his acting here than he did in his film debut Get Rich or Die Tryin', which counts as some kind of dubious achievement, I suppose.

These supporting acts are irrelevant, though, because the only reason anyone is going to watch Righteous Kill is for the two leads, and it's hard to describe the sense of disappointment one feels when watching them go through the motions in such a tedious manner. When Michael Mann directed the pair in Heat, he got it exactly right, shaping the two performances individually and heightening tension through a cautious game of cat-and-mouse, before giving us the payoff with that electrifying coffee shop scene. With no such strong director to push them, and with the whole movie to share, Pacino and De Niro settle into doing the minimum amount of work required in Righteous Kill, and the utter lack of chemistry between them is astonishing. I must confess, the film was so dull at one point I did feel my eyelids growing heavy, and I did start to drift off, before being awoken a few moments later by lots of shouting and gunfire. Maybe I missed their one great scene together while I dozed, but I'm guessing I didn't.

As I watched Righteous Kill, the recent death of Paul Newman was still playing on my mind. I was thinking about how few bad movies that great actor made, and how remarkable it was that he managed to sustain his career for 50 years, in many respects getting better with age. There's no reason why Al Pacino and Robert De Niro shouldn't have extended their careers in a similar fashion, but while they have shown flashes of the old brilliance in the past decade (mostly from Pacino), they have more often been guilty of giving paycheck performances in films that shouldn't even be mentioned in the same breath as actors of their calibre. Just imagine what it would have been like to see these two firebrand actors going head-to-head like this in the 70's, and remember what an event it was in the 90's. Now, it's just a little bit sad.