I’m pretty sure that director Jon Avnet is in leagues with the Dark Lord himself. And not the seductive, amiable type like Harvey Keitel in Little Nicky or Jack Nicholson in The Witches Of Eastwick, either. No, I mean the serious Tim Curry-in-Legend-type of badass who hates us all and yearns to make mankind (and Tom Cruise) suffer beyond all comprehension.
How else to explain how Avnet, after conjuring up box-office duds with Kevin Costner, Richard Gere and Robert Redford, was allowed to escape TV purgatory and direct two Al Pacino vehicles? Short-term memories will recall that their first collaboration birthed the critically body-slammed, audience-ignored 88 Minutes (which, oddly enough, ran 108 minutes). Now, suckering Robert De Niro into showing up, their second has arrived, the pathetic serial-killer groaner Righteous Kill.
Set in gritty New York, Righteous Kill clumsily starts off by introducing us to two veteran homicide cops nicknamed Rooster (Pacino) and Turk (De Niro), who are out to bust a gangsta drug-dealer played by, *sigh*, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. However, just as their investigation into the dealings of Mr. G-Unit, P.I.M.P. is heating up, known criminals start violently shuffling off the mortal coil. Seems a killer is offing the worst of the worst, and he might just be a cop. Thus, the old-timers are teamed up with two younger detectives (John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg) and, aided by De Niro’s slutty CSI friend-with-benefits (Carla Gugino), attempt to discover the identity of the perp.
Right off the bat, Righteous Kill knee-caps itself by revealing what a wasted opportunity it is. De Niro and Pacino are the most treasured actors of their generation, who have only appeared in two films together, The Godfather: Part II and Heat, and only actually shared scenes in the latter. Any film that pairs the two of them together better earn their presence. Yet instead, Avnet and writer Russell Gewirtz (Who wrote the infinitely cooler Inside Man), saddle the two greats with buddy-cop dialogue so awful that your soul dies a little bit just hearing it. I’m talking Brady Bunch references and icky, awkward sex chat. They feel less like partners than tired actors sleepwalking their way through the scene on the way to the catering truck.
What is even worse is how amazingly dull the whole mystery is. We’re told right away who the guilty party “supposedly” is, and then must slog through ninety lifeless minutes watching this person do everything they can to look blameworthy, before being exonerated in an arbitrary last minute twist that defies all the evidence the film has provided. Real storytellers hide clues right in front of you and weave their mystery with skill and precision. Hacks like Avnet and co. put on kid-gloves and treat the audience with contempt.
If only the cast had gone gonzo with the lame material. De Niro, looking comically bloated, relies on grimacing his way through every single scene, while Pacino does his typical world-weary routine (except in a hilarious climactic moment when his stunt double steps in and he turns into a coiled jungle-cat).
Poor Carla Gugino tries valiantly, but her role is so needlessly degrading as to be offensive. Supporting players Leguizamo and Wahlberg seem to be on downers, and manage to appear more lethargic than the stars, though Wahlberg does have one good memorably awful moment wondering aloud “is he killing time? Or is it... killing time?”
There is, in all honesty, not a single thing I can recommend about Righteous Kill. It’s amateurishly shot, tedious and ugly, with as many holes as Pacino wore at the end of Scarface. I beg you, avoid this sucker like Maple Leaf deli meat and help send the malevolence known as Jon Avnet back to whence he came. It’s the righteous thing to do.
1 out of 5
*Originally published in SFU's The Peak: Sept 22nd.