Directed by: Jon Avnet
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, 50 Cent, Carla Gugino, John Leguizamo, Donnie Wahlberg
Rated: R for violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and brief drug use.
Parental Notes: This is a pretty solid R rating. Not for youngsters, though teens and mature preteens may be fine.
The idea of Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino in a movie where they are on screen together for more than ten minutes is a wonderful one. Unfortunately, the team behind “Righteous Kill” appears to have thought that it was wonderful enough to carry a mediocre cop movie. It is not, unless you are such a huge fan of the two actors that seeing them interacting is enough to make you overlook the movie’s failure to be wonderful in any other way.
The story is straightforward: two veteran homicide detectives (DeNiro and Pacino) investigate a series of killings — someone is murdering bad guys who have fallen through the cracks of the justice systems. They’re clearly the work of the same person: the killer keeps leaving little poems at the scenes. As the film progresses, we get clues that the killer is one of the pair, or maybe that it’s someone close to them.
It’s all fairly standard cop thriller stuff, and the film makes no real effort to be anything more. It’s as though the filmmakers put all their effort into getting Pacino and DeNiro on board and didn’t bother with the rest, like a student who focuses on one class to the exclusion of the others, earning one A+ but all Cs otherwise.
Pacino is laid back, witty, and a lot of fun to watch. DeNiro is a blast as well, in full on rage mode a lot of the time. Together, they are delightful — their characters have been working together for decades, and the two veteran actors bring that across as easily as you’d expect. These roles aren’t challenging, and both Pacino and DeNiro saunter through them easily. There’s a fair bit of scenery chewing, especially as the film lumbers to its conclusion, but would you expect anything less from these two?
The supporting cast are all fairly solid, but not transcendental. John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg go through their paces as a pair of detectives from another precinct working the same case, who are thoroughly suspicious of DeNiro’s character. Carla Gugino has a smallish role and while her portrayal brings strength and a hint of interesting layers to the part, she winds up being mostly a pawn in the storyline — in the manner of many strong female characters who have the misfortune to be in gritty crime dramas.
DeNiro and Pacino deserved a better vehicle for their first time spending most of the film on screen together, something that would actually make them flex their acting chops and do more than saunter from point A to point B. There’s very little in the film to surprise anybody who’s seen more than one police thriller, and it’s disappointing to see two so talented actors in a film that weights them down with its mediocrity.
Ultimately, whether you’ll enjoy “Righteous Kill” or not depends on how excited you are to see DeNiro and Pacino together on screen for the better part of two hours. If you’re just looking to see them act together, don’t miss this opportunity. But if you are hoping for another film of, say, the caliber of “Heat,” don’t waste your time or money.