Perhaps, all those years ago, when the was making The Godfather, Coppola realised intuitively he should never put De Niro and Pacino in the same scene together. In Righteous Kill a very average Hollywood film director named Jon Avnet (88 Minutes) jams them into every scene he can possibly manage.
The result is disastrous; Pacino is beady-eyed, mannered, dyspeptic, a spidery clown untidy as a long line of cocaine. De Niro is lumpen and jowly, his face occasionally yawning into that terrifying grimace with the downturned mouth and the blank eyes he perfected in Goodfellas.
The story is a slight one: two near-to-retirement NYPD cops are on the trail of serial killer who is almost certainly a cop as well. From an unnamed low quality videotape of De Niro’s character apparently confessing to the crimes, which from the earlier moments is interleaved with the action and the kills, we think we know where we’re going. That the videotape is not necessarily what it seems is not a huge surprise to anyone who regularly watches this kind of thriller.
The story is slight but we watch as a vigilante tracks down and shoots a number of rapists and pimps who, in the judgment of the killer, have not answered for their crimes. These include the inevitable pedophile catholic priest, the pimp, the club-owning cocaine dealer – in fact every cliché that every film about New York crime can offer. For good measure there’s a woman cop who enjoys rough sex (Carla Gugino) and who eventually plays a pivotal role in the final scenes.
The film is very poorly put together and suffers from a bad script, but the chances are you’d watch it on a long-haul flight if pushed. It’s perhaps unfair to expect Pacino and De Niro to be at the top of their game all the time, but one thing is clear about both actors; they desperately need good direction from a good director – and they haven’t received it here.
** Two Stars out of Five