Director: Jon Avnet
You know how it is when you’ve been a cop in the NYPD for over thirty years: “Most people respect the badge. Everyone respects the gun.” You want to protect 99% of the population from the 1% of “degenerates”” who prey on the innocent and you watch paedophile priests, swarmy yuppie rapists and white trash child killers go free because of the “lawyers.” You see young club skanks snorting “primo” cocaine or “blow” which is what they call it in the streets, and they are doing that shit in public toilets in fancy big-time clubs and you have to “flip” cute female legal cokehead secretaries to “rat” out their supplier who looks a lot like 50 Cent. You arrive at a crime scene standing over the dead body of Rambo the Skateboarding Pimp (that's a street name for all you not from the street) and the first thing you think to say is “We gotta find out who did this!” like the wizened professional that you are. Anytime you see a brother officer in uniform at a crime scene, you always have to ask, “How about those Mets last night?” You also have to contend with your Brian-Dennehy-sized chief, the weasel IA officers (that’s Internal Affairs for all you people who are not from the street) and a hot Carla-Gugino-shaped forensic specialist who always wants to have sex with you (Sheesh, can’t an old cop near retirement get a moment’s rest around here?!). Then there’s someone out there playing vigilante, murdering all the criminals who got away with it and they are making a RIGHTEOUS KILL and it is also the name of this cop movie that I watched, which is also funnily enough a RIGHTEOUS KILL of your time as well as your faith in the acting abilities of co-leads Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.
Boy, it’s been over a decade since Michael Mann paired together the two finest Italian-American actors together for the epic cops and robbers film, Heat, with that classic diner scene discussion between the two of them, finally uniting in the one scene two thespians often mistaken for each other. Well, neither actor have been doing much decent work since then, so why not pair them together once again? So, we have De Niro and Pacino playing two old partners in fighting crime, introduced in a title sequence montage where they shoot off rounds at a firing range while a remixed generic rock guitar tune underscores that these Old Dogs still got it. Yes, in a surprising casting move, De Niro plays a gruff, irritable cop who is seen throwing a tantrum coaching little league and in an even more surprisingly acting choice, Pacino plays a gum-chewing wise-ass who is seen beating an egghead at a twin game of time-clock chess. Yeah, so there’s a vigilante bumping off bad guys who our heroes wanted to see put in bars and once again the line of dialogue is heard, “I don’t know whether to arrest these guys or give them a medal!” which we haven’t heard since Magnum Force or Death Wish or every other movie that put together cops and vigilantes. A calling card is left behind on the dead bodies, written poems found at the scene of the crime and circumstantial evidence points to the fact that a cop is most likely doing it, compounded by the video footage of De Niro offering a confession of his “crimes” to the camera. The younger dogs, John Leguizamo and Donnie Whalberg as another set of partners eventually come to think De Niro did it too. Oh boy, this movie is leading me down one path, I don’t suppose SPOILER ALERT AS IF YOU CARE that they might switch it up and offer a plot twist, particularly with such clues when the grizzled old police chief has both cops in his office and says ‘The killer might be right in front of you and you wouldn’t even know it’ and then we see a scene start with Pacino at a crime scene speculating ‘I’m the killer and I walk into the apartment...’ Hey, I’m no detective but I think someone else may have made those RIGHTEOUS KILLS... wink-wink, hoo-hah, and who cares? Cue a re-run of the climax to Heat but with the roles reversed and there you have it.
Now I love cop movies, even the most cliched cop movies, but by those standards, Righteous Kill is quite the boring cop movie, featuring standard issue stuff that wouldn’t look askew in an episode of CSI or Law & Order or any other cop show in the last ten years. What really sinks it is its sole attraction, which is De Niro and Pacino together again, both wearing faces that look like beat-up catcher’s mitts and neither displaying much of the fire that gave them the recognition of high calibre actors. Take me down to Mugging Central because that's what we're dealing with here. I can only imagine actors like Gugino or Leguizamo or 50 Cent signing up to this film so excited to work with Taxi Driver and Scarface and then being stuck acting opposite guys who look like they are sleeping with their eyes open, delivering weak and forced banter such as the extended discussion of Wonderdog as a metaphor for drug-taking that would put Jim Belushi sitcoms to shame. I would have preferred this film more if they had starred two professional lookalike impersonators of DeNiro and Pacino, strutting around alternating between standard lines like "What am I, alone in this world?" and "Hoo Haa!" ad nausem, or even if they stitched together outtakes from the countless other films where these two played leather-jacket wearing cops stalking the streets of New York; Sea of Love and 15 Minutes partnered together to solve the mystery of the plot from a thousand movies!