An un-righteous "Kill"

Sept. 15, 2008, midnight | By David Tao | 13 years, 8 months ago

Stereotypical cop drama collapses under its own weight

Take a convoluted storyline, mix it with a disappointing supporting cast, uninspired cinematic direction and questionable production quality - the result is a film that exudes the pungent stench of "done before." Then, throw in two of cinema's most critically acclaimed actors: Robert de Niro ("Raging Bull," "Taxi Driver") and Al Pacino ("The Godfather," "Scarface") in their first collaboration in 13 years. The result: "Righteous Kill," a testament to wasted potential.

The film follows Turk (Robert De Niro) and Rooster (Al Pacino), two police detectives on the brink of retirement, as they pursue a vigilante serial killer who murders acquitted criminals, shooting his victims at close-range and leaving several lines of atrociously composed poetry justifying the killing. Soon, Turk and Rooster are joined on the case by a second team, Detectives Perez (John Leguizamo) and Riley (Donnie Wahlberg). They soon deduce that the killer must be a rogue cop, eyeing each other with suspicion as they work to put the vigilante behind bars.

Expectations for the movie are high, since previous De Niro-Pacino collaborations such as 1974's "The Godfather Part II" and 1995's "Heat" were both released to widespread critical acclaim. Still, there's only so much that the spectacular acting duo can do to transform a weakly-penned and hideously misshaped script courtesy of Russell Gewirtz. The film's bloated plot is dotted with twists and flash-forwards that are as confusing as they are bizarre and meaningless. In the film's opening, a videotaped confession establishes the identity of the killer, effectively spoiling the remainder of the movie. From then on, the film spirals punch lines and filler – neither entertaining nor thought-provoking.

The audience is treated to some irrelevant and rather vulgar insights to Turk's private life, including an overlong side-plot involving his detective girlfriend, Karen Corelli (Carla Gugino), whose sexual fetishes extend into sadomasochism. Also interspersed within the film are Turk and Rooster's visits to a psychologist, which reveal little about their characters that isn't already shown by their dialogue. The inevitable twist ending, highly anti-climatic and predictable, results in disappointment for mainstream movie audiences and heartbreak for die-hard De Niro/Pacino fans.

Artistry or creative vision from director Jon Avnet or cinematographer Denis Lenoir could have redeemed the film's problematic story. Unfortunately, Avnet settles for a stereotypical hard-boiled cop drama, and as a result, inventive and intriguing camera angles are nonexistent. Flashbacks to the killer's executions are boring and formulaic – a grainy image, coupled with an unsteady first-person camera angle, repeated time and time again in slow-motion. The film revisits the opening video confession through flash-forwards share the same grainy image quality, a visual theme that represents the only significant departure from the sudden rough cuts used in nearly every transition. Cinematographically, it's a film that wants the audience to ignore the camera angles and focus on the acting, which should be its strongest suit.

Unfortunately, the movie employs an absolutely hideous supporting cast that includes not one, but two pop-music icons, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson as Spider, a neighborhood drug dealer, and Donnie Wahlberg as Detective Riley. Wahlberg's acting is wooden and uninteresting while Jackson's performance is forced and humorously over-dramatic, ironic given his highly successful career as a gangster rapper. These shameless casting decisions are part of a larger attempt to increase hype for the film, as evidenced by cameo appearances from rapper Jim Jones performing his hit single "We Fly High," and professional skateboarder Rob Dyrdek.

The supporting cast's weaknesses succeed in eclipsing the legendary reputations of the two leads, effectively pounding the final nail in the film's coffin. Jackson's faux-acting is so humorously bad that you have to divert attention from the main characters just to stop and stare. Better performances from the two screen legends could've helped, but Pacino, who often plays angry and hot-headed characters, seems out of character playing the quiet, demure Rooster, while De Niro gives a relatively sleepy performance typical of his more recent work. Consequently, what should be the film's strongest selling point and a landmark in movie history morphs into yet another layer of disappointment, un-righteously burying "Righteous Kill."

Righteous Kill (101 minutes) is rated R for violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and brief drug use. Now playing in theaters everywhere.

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