Movie Review for Righteous Kill (2008)

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Review #682 of 365
Movie Review of Righteous Kill (2008) [R] 101 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $12.00
Where Viewed: United Artists Denver Pavilions Stadium 15, Denver, CO
When Seen: 12 September 2008 @ 2:35 pm
DVD Release Date: Unscheduled (please check back)
After the Credits: nothing

Directed by: Jon Avnet (88 Minutes)
Written by: Russell Gewirtz (Inside Man)

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Robert De Niro (Stardust) • Al Pacino (88 Minutes) • 50 Cent (Home of the Brave) • Carla Gugino (American Gangster) • John Leguizamo (The Happening) • Donnie Wahlberg (Saw IV) • Brian Dennehy (Ratatouille)

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What happens when you put the director of 88 Minutes, Jon Avnet, with the writer of the Inside Man, Russell Gewirtz, and the leading actors of our time one Robert De Niro and one Al Pacino (listed alphabetically) and plunk them down in New York City for a gritty, twisty, crime drama? One of two things: either you are looking at an automatic Best Picture nominee or you are being set up to become painfully aware that it takes more than the best of ingredients and intentions to make a Best Picture nominee. There is a cliché about not judging books by their covers, however the opposite is true when it comes to sizing up a film by its title. Well the title of this film, Righteous Kill, could well be the only hint necessary to suggest the wrong course this film for it juxtaposes two terms that don't belong together in these times. The title opens the door, therefore, for a lot of other things that don't belong together in this film. Like Pacino and De Niro for one.

As for Pacino and De Niro, this film was a virtual waste of their considerable talents.
As much as they are contemporaries and definitely inarguably the best actors of their generation, they make an awkward if not over-baked pair in this film together. Pacino probably handles the duo a bit better, but there's a constant sense of each not wanting to either upstage the other. As both are known for playing their roles a bit over the top, something which for starters has been working as well for either in their recent films, though De Niro was amazing in Stardust playing the flamboyant flying ship captain with a penchant for musical theatre and Pacino was in rare form as the nasty casino owner, Willy Bank in Ocean's Thirteen. In both cases, the two leaned on comedy to soften their image. Not so in Righteous Kill where there's almost nothing to laugh about.

The film begins with black and white video footage and an interior monologue featuring De Niro's character, Turk, confessing to a string of crimes. The effect is powerful at first, because then the film unfolds taking us into his life as a NYPD crime victim's detective with an iron clad partner named Rooster (Al Pacino). The pivotal moment in the story occurs early on, planted there so it will be long forgotten until the twist is revealed at the end—so pay attention. If you weren't expecting a twist, you don't know Jon Avnet or Russell Gewirtz. The first glimpse into their complicated professions comes when a brutal child rapist is set free. There's nothing the observing detectives can do that day in the courtroom to overturn the verdict handed down by a jury of the obviously twisted defendant's peers. They leave the courtroom in shock. Not to worry, though, because Turk has a plan. When the time is right, and the conditions are ripe, he conceives of a set up. He takes a gun used in a recent violent crime from the evidence room and plants it in the dude's apartment. Shortly there after, all the pieces fall into place and the child rapist goes away for life for a crime he didn't commit. Of course, Rooster, his partner and best friend for over 20 years is shocked by this transgression, but he goes along with it agreeing in a surface way, that the guy got what he deserved and justice, in its own perturbing way, was served. And then the monologue shares with us the next line of the story. 14 murders were orchestrated. He person killed for a reason. And who is sent to investigate each one, but Rooster and Turk of course. They find the bodies, all bad guys themselves, adorned with a tiny poem left as a calling card by the soon-to-be-labeled serial killer. Turk and Rooster are intrigued by the poems and suspect they are sign of weakness that will eventually lead to him making a mistake and / or wanting to get caught. As the number of victims grows, Lieutenant Hingis (Brina Dennehy), their boss, assigns two other detectives, Simon Perez (John Leguizamo) and Ted Riley (Donnie Wahlberg) to the case, and they quickly develop their own theory that the killer is a cop, and that all indicators point directly at Rooster.

The chief mistake, probably, in the somewhat contrived plotting of the film is that it fails to deliver any reasons for us to care about Rooster or Turk. We are tossed into the middle of their lives knowing little about them other than their longevity with the police force. But as men, we don't know much. There is a glimpse into the personality of Turk provided by some musings as to that he like to coach a team of little girls who play softball just like he did for his daughter when she was a kid. That's about it for back story on these two.

…not all films are more than the sum of their parts; this one is spectacularly less.
So, we don't really know who these men are, and it makes it hard to care much about their lives. Unfortunately, it seems, that the writer and the director were so preoccupied by the caliber of their cast and the 'explosive' twist toward which the film is building, realize it or not, that they lost track of the idea that without a connection to these characters most people will simply get up at the end and forget much of this film before they reach the illuminated "EXIT" sign. It's not, in other words, going to become water cooler fodder for the next 4 months. As for Pacino and De Niro, this film was a virtual waste of their considerable talents. In the end, Righteous Kill proves that not all films are more than the sum of their parts; this one is spectacularly less.

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Cast Members
Robert De NiroAl Pacino50 Cent
Carla GuginoJohn LeguizamoDonnie Wahlberg
Brian Dennehy
Jon Avnet
Russell Gewirtz

Review-lite Righteous Kill (2008) [max of 150 words]
Director Jon Avnet, known for his tight thrillers and big twist endings delivers on the twist with Righteous Kill, unfortunately the vehicle used to arrive there varies on being either dullor inconsequential. Everything is simply too contrived in this Russell Gewirtz screenplay and the central characters too unknown to draw sympathy, that the resulting film is nearly forgotten by the time you get to the illuminated "EXIT" sign above the door. It was a considerable waste of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.

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