Righteous Kill has DeNiro and Pacino playing NYPD detectives Turk and Rooster who have been partners for decades. The film opens with what appears to be a videotaped confession by Turk in which he admits to killing fourteen people. His confession drives the story and we go back to where this all started - with Turk framing a man who just got off for killing a young girl. He crossing the line to see justice done and his partner Rooster looks the other way. But then a series of corpses start to pile up. Each victim is a scumbag who deserves to die and at each crime scene there's a lousy poem left by the killer and setting the victim's rap sheet to rhyme. Is Turk really the serial killer behind all these vigilante slayings or is something else going on?
DeNiro and Pacino in Righteous Kill (Overture Films)
The film boasts a twist that makes the final moments suddenly more interesting than expected. But you know you're in for a twist from the opening moments when Avnet makes such a show of Rooster playing chess and talking about strategy. You may not figure out exactly what the twist is but you know you're being set up for one. Now write Gewirtz employed a similar structure in Inside Man , which opened with Clive Owen's bank robber taunting viewers with a promise of certain deceit. But with Inside Man , Gewirtz constructed a much more intricate and playful script and then had the tight, inspired direction of Spike Lee to pull everything together into a nifty package. But in the case of Righteous Kill, the script is far less clever and Avnet is not a smart enough or stylish enough director to invest the proceedings with much zest.
The biggest disappointment about Righteous Kill is the fact that it's ultimately so bland. DeNiro and Pacino share a lot of screen time but there's nothing going on between the two of them. I could have walked away happy if the film was bad but the two of them struck a lively rapport. But there's no sense of fun in their interplay and very little intensity. The mystery for me is how could Avnet drain these two powerhouse actors of interest. Every now and then Pacino does get a twinkle in his eye and DeNiro winds himself too tight, but these occasional sparks are not nearly enough to fuel an entire film.
Righteous Kill (rated R for violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and brief drug use) wastes the talents of two of America's most gifted performers. Maybe I was hoping for too much from this match up but in the end this film just offered too little. The twists and turns were not clever enough to really dazzle; the interplay between the characters lacked inspiration; nothing is really made of the themes of vigilantism and justice; and the whole thing just ended up feeling all too familiar. See this only if you can't possibly pass up the opportunity of seeing Pacino and DeNiro share a lot of screen time. Otherwise take a pass or wait for it to hit the rental shelves. Why can't Scorsese come up with a project for them? Now that might be able to exploit the potential these two could generate on the screen.
Companion viewing: Heat, Inside Man, The Star Chamber