Righteous Kill (Jon Avnet, 2008) Someone is killing Scott Free's—those scum-bags that you just know are guilty but have some smooth-talking fancy-pants lawyer or some milque-toast judge who lets 'em walk, sneering, to prey on Society again...until they show up with a bullet-hole in the middle of their forehead. Two buddy cops, Turk (Robert De Niro) and Rooster (Al Pacino) start to add things up when one of the perps they arrested shows up deader than a Keanu Reeves performance. Looks like it's murder "and somebody's responsible." A vigilante? Certainly. But, if its revenge they're after, why are so many of these guys showing up dead? It's then that they think that the killer may be a cop.
Complicating matters is that most of the cops, including De Niro, Pacino, plus Carla Gugino, John Leguizamo, plus Donnie Wahlberg-o are creeps, so it could be any of 'em, except for the Captain of the squad (Brian Dennehy) but only because you couldn't believe Dennehy could sneak up on anybody but a bed-ridden quadriplegic.
So the question is: which of the crazy actors is playing the crazy character killing all these people?
The answer: who cares? With a movie this terrible, and victims painted so sneeringly evil they're cartoons it's hard to work up much sympathy or even interest in finding their killer. That's the problem of the writer. But director Avnet is so ham-fisted, he can't seem to hold a shot or light a set without sabotaging the drama of a scene. He's so busy "nuancing" things that you have trouble following the plot. He's not even talented enough to get out of the way of De Niro and Pacino (or, God forbid, rein them in) to make a scene play.
And, let's face it, having those two legends on the screen should be a treat: they didn't work together in The Godfather: Part II (obviously), but their scenes in Michael Mann's Heat were tantalizingly short. Here, they're in almost every scene together (although Avnet can't seem to find the wherewithal to keep them in the same shot), and you realize they're like oil and water, or Mumbles and Loudmouth—they're two actors who've known each other for years, but their characters don't seem to. Or else the movie would be over in five minutes. But no, the suspicions and subsequent doubts must be fully explored, the red herrings must stink up the joint, and the script-writer must throw in a couple of feints that make no sense once the movie is over—they're there just to con the audience.*
What a waste. The big mystery is given this script, how could it attract two of the most iconic, respected and (when paired) legendary actors? Sounds like the biggest con was going on behind the scenes. Righteous Kill is the last thing you would expect a film starring De Niro and Pacino would be—a very pedestrian run-of-the-mill movie.
* Now, movies are by nature, the manipulation of reality—and the audience—to tell a story. But, there's doing it well, and there's doing it the Righteous Kill way. This week, we'll look at a movie that stylishly—and very slyly—does it right.