Friday, September 12, 2008

Review: Righteous Kill (2008)

Righteous Kill
101 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

Gene Siskel used to have a saying, 'is this film better than a documentary showing the filmmakers having lunch?' When you have a cast that teams Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, and you then fill out that cast with Donnie Wahlberg, John Leguizamo, Brian Dennehy, Curtis Jackson, and Carlo Gugino, that bar becomes that much higher. Yet Righteous Kill isn't just less entertaining than those actors having lunch, it's less entertaining that watching those actors sleep.

The plot - Pacino and De Niro are veteran cops who end up investigating a series of vigilante murders of known criminals who have been turned loose by the justice system. As the case unfolds, De Niro ends up becoming a prime suspect. Guess how it ends! (Yep, you're correct). The primary draw of this one is of course watching De Niro and Pacino act together for longer than six minutes. Ironically, even in this one, they are kept apart for most of the picture. Yes, they have several scenes together, but the plot keeps sending them on their separate ways to investigate this or that aspect of the incredibly cliched case. They really only have two of three extended dramatic scenes, and only a conversation about Underdog and drug use has any spark.

What's most shocking is how cheap the film looks. The production values are sparce, and the entire film is shot in extreme close-up, as if to hide the shoddy sets and lack of money. Make no mistake, this feels like a mediocre direct-to-DVD film and had only one of the two titans appeared as opposed to both, that's exactly what would have happened. None of the supporting cast really registers, even the usually entertaining Donne Wahlberg is neutered by the banality of it all. It is kinda funny that he is partnered with John Leguizamo, as the two squared off last year as cop and Iraq-veteran/bank robber in Spike TV's miniseries The Kill Point (terrific first 2/3, atrocious final two episodes). Most disturbing is the arc for Carla Guguino, who's sexually aggressive character is physically violated and then mentally castrated as she is forced to stand aside and let the men do their manly work to avenge her honor.

But what of our star attractions? De Niro has never looked more tired and ornery. He sulks from scene to scene, basically doing the cliched De Niro tics that have been so often parodied. In a decade filled with lazy performances, this may go down as his laziest. At least Al Pacino looks like he's having a little fun mocking his stereotypical character bits. He does get a couple fun 'hoo-haa' speeches, and frankly he's just more fun to watch than the bored and low-key Robert De Niro. This is not either of their best work. Righteous Kill has a boring story that feels like something from 1987, mediocre acting from actors who all have done much better, phoned in performances from two living legends, and production values that render the film cheap and sometimes confusing. Had Robert De Niro and Al Pacino not teamed up for this one, it never would have seen a theater screen.

Grade: C-


Missy said...

I'm shocked it managed a 16 million opening!

Missy said...

I'm shocked it managed a 16 million opening!


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