September 11, 2008

Righteous Kill

At long last, we've found the remains of our careers

Grade: D +
Director: Jon Avnet
Starring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Carla Gugino, John Leguizamo, Curtis Jackson, Donnie Wahlberg, and Brian Dennehy
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

Back in 1986, 70-somethings Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas teamed together one last time playing elderly gangsters in the buddy comedy, Tough Guys. While the production was steeped in Hollywood nostalgia and a few guilty chuckles, it was more than a bit melancholy to witness two of the silver screen’s finest actors relegated to B-movie schlock. Their best days – and roles – were far, far behind them.

Righteous Kill trods similar ground, with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino starring as aging, tough-talking NYPD cops – nicknamed Turk and Rooster – teetering along the edge of the moral dividing line. However, with its obvious typecasting and palpable joylessness, the macabre spectacle reminds me more of the uneasy, strained collaborations between Boris Karloff and Béla Lugosi during the latter days of their careers. It is a movie 20 years past its expiration date, and the only extraordinary sights to behold are Pacino’s efforts to still tease-up his increasingly thinning bangs, and De Niro laboring to propel his expanding girth through the Earth’s gravitational pull.

With the fragile assistance two younger detectives (John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg), Turk and Rooster are on the trail of a serial killer on the loose. The first, and and by no means only, with Russell Gewirtz's (Inside Man) ponderous screenplay is that it makes the mistake of forecasting upfront that Turk is secretly the killer. Fed up with rapists, pedophile priests, and drug dealers (including a kingpin played by Curtis Jackson, aka rapper 50 Cent) beating the rap and roaming the streets, Turk dispenses vigilante justice as some odd mash-up of Dirty Harry, The Star Chamber, and Se7en.

Or so it seems. You can be assured of one of two things while watching Righteous Kill: either this early revelation makes the rest of the film a gigantic waste of time, or there is going to be a twist ending you can see coming a mile away…and the film is still a gigantic waste of time. Director Jon Avnet helms this police procedural with the dexterity of a lumberjack as one implausible scene after another is strung together to form a head-scratching, tedious saunter through Madame Tussauds. An opening credits montage shows Turk and Rooster target-shooting and pumping iron (and, oddly, coaching Little League baseball and playing pickup chess), and Avnet spends the remainder of the film trying to prop up this masculine artifice.

No one is buying it, particularly when the cost includes being repeatedly subjected to De Niro’s creepy sexual escapades with a comely fellow cop (Carla Gugino), always shot from camera angles that obscure the actor’s paunch. Add to that De Niro’s animatronic line readings, poorly written supporting roles, and consistently stale repartee between the two leads (including a reference to the cartoon character Underdog as closeted pill-popper that is even older than De Niro and Pacino’s acting heydays), and you are left with a geriatric revue kept on life support way past the point somebody should have pulled the plug.

Neil Morris

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