by TOM NIXON
The idea of De Niro and Pacino having the lion’s share of screen time may have caused mouths to water back in the ‘70s, but in 2008 you can almost hear the cash cow being flogged into the dirt. Playing long-serving partners in the police force and old friends, the duo do little more than rattle off a mixture of cop clichés and Tarantino-lite small talk at each other, the characters never amounting to more than a tame parody of the actors’ respective legacies. 1995’s Heat (the last time these two met) is like a godsend in comparison, Michael Mann allowing the co-stars’ relationship to pulse with tension in the absence of much direct contact, then eventually spark into intensity at the final showdown. There’s a final showdown here too, boring because so little has been built between them.
Even if Rob and Al weren’t coasting on the back of their fame, the fact remains that a movie is more than just its stars. Righteous Kill aspires to be exactly the sort of film one of the two guys might’ve starred in way back; tense, gritty, above all morally ambiguous and thought-provoking. The reality is your typical half-baked story of a vigilante cop using his gun as an extension of justice. The idea of vigilantism as sympathetic is driven into us by genius quotes like “nothin’ wrong with a little shooting, s’long as the right people get shot,” along with a revelation that the serial killer was abused as a child by one of his victims, but today it’s about as shocking and resonant as the revelation that the killer, believe it or not, is not who you thought it was. The saddest thing is that because events are drawn out without any overarching direction (a hokey framing flashback lays everything on the table from the outset), and the script lacks any tension or profundity, this predictable twist was the only way of providing the film with any sort of payoff, cringe-inducing though it may be.
Without even mentioning the minor characters contrived into existence solely as a way of serving the twist, or the sporadic bits of inanely jerking camerawork that seem so popular at the moment, Righteous Kill is a film you’ve seen a hundred times before. Maybe the stars could’ve carried it a little way above mediocrity once upon a time, but there’s no real need to bother when the paycheck’s coming anyway.
1 1/2 stars