I just saw a TV ad for Righteous Kill that said: “De Niro. Pacino. What else do you need to know?”
Well, for starters, that it’s a bad movie.
Which is depressing. I’m as big a fan of De Niro and Pacino as anyone. All the talk about them being the two best actors of their generation? I really do buy into that hype. People have accused them of over-acting as the years have stretched on — Pacino shouting his lines, De Niro phoning it in — but even their worst is still more entertaining than other actors’ best.
They’re not the problem in Righteous Kill. It’s just depressing that they’re in it at all.
When I found out the film was to be directed by Jon Avnet and written by Russell Gewirtz, I didn’t think it spelled disaster. Sure, Avnet’s other Pacino movie, last April’s 88 Minutes, is quite potentially the worst movie of the year — it’s painfully awful in a way Righteous Kill never comes close to — but if a good script is in the hands of a bad director, I trust it to shine through. And Gewirtz wrote the rock-solid Inside Man, so my spirits were high. This didn’t have to be The Godfather, it just had to be another rock-solid cop movie starring two legends.
Unfortunately, Righteous Kill has a screenplay that was nowhere near ready to be shot. I can picture it now: Inside Man becomes a success, Gewirtz’s phone starts ringing off the hook, he doesn’t have anything to show anybody, so he finally pulls out that crappy cop screenplay he gave up on three years ago. And Avnet, well, he just makes it worse.
For starters, the first twenty minutes or so of the film are nearly incomprehensible. It’s some of the worst editing you’ve ever seen. It plays like an extended movie trailer, except one that doesn’t explain the plot. Oh look, a murder. Oh look, De Niro and Pacino are talking about something unrelated. Oh look, isn’t that 50 Cent? Wait, what the heck is the plot of this movie?
The plot, as the real trailers explain in much more coherent terms, follows De Niro and Pacino as cops hunting down a serial killer who only seems to be killing bad guys. Early on, though, we see a grainy video of De Niro addressing the camera, in what looks to be a confession of the murders; the film keeps cutting back to him talking periodically. I guess we’re supposed to be wondering whether or not he actually is the killer; for my part, I guessed the correct killer was within the first twenty minutes — yeah, even during all the incomprehensible editing it was pretty obvious who the bad guy
Stuff just happens with no rhyme or reason. Carla Gugino, who plays De Niro’s love interest, is assaulted by the killer late in the movie. She sees who it is (we don’t; the movie loves revealing the killer to other characters without revealing him to the audience, which gets really tiring). Why would the killer show his face to her? Why would he assault her in the first place? Simply to make him less forgivable, I suspect. It doesn’t matter. The real motives of the killer, when we actually find out, are just as nonsensical.
Then there’s the matter of Pacino playing a character that was obviously meant to be played by a much younger actor. There are a bunch of weird lines about De Niro being Pacino’s “mentor”; at first you think he’s joking until it becomes blatantly obvious that this was originally written as a movie about an older cop and a younger cop. Of course, “originally” implies that the script was at all changed, beyond a couple of lines, to reflect the correct ages of the actors. (For the record, Pacino’s actually the older one, by three years.)
Did I mention that the twist ending hinges on the fact that it’s never made clear what the main characters’ names are? Yeah. And the movie never bothers to tell us whether two characters are alive or dead at the end? And the killer leaves a calling card — a poem — at the scene of each of his murders? Please.
So the movie’s a mess. An utter mess. The only redeeming aspect of Righteous Kill is its dialogue. It’s the kind of tough-talking, my-balls-are-bigger-than-your-balls cop dialogue that I found so entertaining in Street Kings. Sample exchange:
Pacino: Do you like poetry?
Young Punk: What?
De Niro: Do…you…like…poetry?
Young Punk: Yeah. Roses are red, violets are blue, I’m gonna punch your f—ing face off, you f—ing f—.
I’m amused by that sort of thing, especially when De Niro and Pacino are involved, because they tough-talk like nobody’s ever tough-talked. All the movie had to do was have a really simple, tight plot, and let the two actors do their thing. Instead, we get a script and direction straight out of the Idiot Bin. Avnet is just plain terrible, and Gewirtz should be ashamed of himself.
Movie Grade: C-
Two cops hunt down a serial killer who only seems to kill bad guys.
Related News Stories:
9/4/07: Leguizamo, Futterman are latest to join Pacino and De Niro’s Righteous Kill
8/23/07: Carla Gugino joins Pacino and De Niro in Righteous Kill
7/19/07: De Niro/Pacino thriller Righteous Kill gets poster, more cast
5/18/07: De Niro and Pacino team up at last!