It’s not everyday that two of the more respected and admired actors in Hollywood share equal billing in a film. To be honest, I can’t even recall the last time it occurred. So when I caught wind that Robert De Niro and Al Pacino were starring together in the new crime thriller Righteous Kill, I was excited to say the least. That excitement, as you will soon read, was short lived.
My grievances started within the first ten minutes of the movie when I realized the story of Righteous Kill was weak at best. Cop thrillers have two routes for success: have a smartly written story that keeps people in the audience guessing or have a fair amount of action sequences to keep the people in the audience riveted. I couldn’t find a trace of either of the these necessities — the draw of the film apparently rested squarely on the name recognition of its stars. That would have worked perhaps if this was 1985. Today, these guys, as painful as it is for me to say, are mere shells of what they once were.
Robert DeNiro still has his trademark sour-puss face working in his favor but instead of it conveying a tough guy persona all I could think was that he was constipated. He barely had enough left in the tank to make his role of NYPD Detective Tom “Turk” Cowan believable. Same goes for Al Pacino as Detective David “Rooster” Fisk. While this part doesn’t have any of his trademark, high volume “Who-Ha” moments, it still pretty much follows the outline of his other boisterous roles. What did stand out to me was it looked like these guys were just treading water. I’d gather from their lackluster performances that neither of them cared or believed much in the story penned by Russell Gewirtz (who wrote a very good story in Inside Man). If they asked, I’d agree with them that the story about a serial-killer suspected to be a cop jumps all over the place in a clumsy manner in an effort to create mystery and twists (that you can see coming light years away) but I’d argue that, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have played their A-game.
But whether these icons had their heart in it is irrelevant. There still should not have been an opportunity for them to get shown up by John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg. They play Perez and Riley, detectives who find themselves in an uneasy work relationship with Rooster and Turk. They come off very hungry as they work diligently, sidestepping all the roadblocks being tossed their way by their “partners”. Same goes for Carla Gugino who plays a medical examiner and Turk’s “lady friend” Karen Corelli. Her role doesn’t amount to much more than a pawn being played by both sides and a sexual plaything but at least she tries to make something out of her screen time.
But man oh man, Righteous Kill is a bigger letdown than the one you would get when you finally manage to hookup with a girl (or guy) of your fantasies only to find out she (or he) was a terrible lay. The story, quite literally, is that bad. And watching DeNiro and Pacino try to run in a chase scene is even more awkward — I fully expected one of them to dislocate a hip. I don’t blame these guys for wanting to star alongside each other before they died (they’re 65 and 68 respectively), but I certainly blame them for picking such a poorly written and directed film to do it in, and the half-assed effort they put forth. They should have held out for something better. You should too.