Review: Righteous Kill

Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino from Righteous Kill

Even before I knew anything about the plot of Righteous Kill, I knew it was a historic teaming of crime film legends Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Sure, they’ve shared the screen before in Heat and Godfather II, but this one had them as detective partners.

Ultimately, after seeing the film, this was the biggest selling point.

Pacino and De Niro play seasoned NYPD detectives who are tracking down a serial killer that’s targeting criminals. The movie opens with a tight shot of De Niro talking to the camera. Like Inside Man (which was also written by Russell Gewirtz), the movie unfolds a bit out of sequence, leading up to this opening shot. We are treated to a somewhat first-person narration of how this serial killer operates.

In some ways, this movie reminds me a lot of Traitor from several weeks ago. It’s got a great cast (this movie also featuring Carla Gugino, Brian Dennehy, Donny Wahlberg and John Leguizamo), and it pushes all the right buttons for its genre. However, by the time the final reel winds down, you’re left with a very typical, alarmingly predictable genre film.

Young, upstart studio Overture films has been wise to promote the casting of De Niro and Pacino opposite each other over the plot or the characters because that is the real draw for a movie like this. Sure, we’ve seen both of these actors in many similar roles (and in roles on the other side of the thin blue line) over the years, but it is still nice to watch them do what they do best.

I will give the film credit — it’s far better than some really bottom-of-the-barrel crime dramas we’ve seen this year, like Street Kings and 88 Minutes (which was also directed by Righteous Kill auteur Jon Avnet). This movie is competently made and not unentertaining. However, I wouldn’t expect anything spectacular.

The film is loaded down with age jokes and some witty banter between the two detectives. They each play their oft-seen stock characters, and the performances do seem phoned in at times. However, considering some of the garbage that has been hitting the screens the past few weeks, you could do a lot worse.

The movie was held back from very early reviews, reportedly because there’s some twists in the plot that the studio didn’t want spoiled. However, after seeing the movie, I can’t imagine that many people won’t be able to guess how the film ends before the half-way point. The twists aren’t clever at all, and we’ve seen this stuff many times before.

My suggestion for this movie is to go in with as low of expectations as you can. Die-hard Pacino and De Niro fans will enjoy seeing their favorite actors on the screen, but without these guys in their stock character mode (like with Keanu Reeves or someone worse), this film would have really stank.

The Upside: It is fun to watch Pacino and DeNiro work together.

The Downside: About as hard to predict as a professional wrestling bout.

On the Side: The film was originally planned to feature an old cop, played by De Niro, and a younger cop. Then DeNiro convinced the filmmakers to cast Pacino, who is three years his senior.

Grade: C+

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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