DVD Review: Righteous Kill
I'm not going to mess around here: Righteous Kill is a bad movie. A very bad movie. It's bad in just about every way a movie like this can be bad. What ostensibly makes this cop thriller special is that it reunites two of the greatest actors in cinema history, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, in their first on-screen pairing since 1995's Heat. The issue some people had with Heat, at least in terms of the Pacino-De Niro teaming (they were both in The Godfather Part II, but never appeared on the screen together), was that they only shared one scene together (well, technically two, but the second, in the film's final moments, has no dialogue). Notwithstanding the fact that Heat is completely brilliant and that people who complain about it don't know what they're talking about (seriously, badmouth Heat in my presence and I will cut you), I can understand the appeal of Righteous Kill's gimmick of "now they're in virtually every scene together!" The problem is, as I mentioned earlier in this paragraph, Righteous Kill is bad. Righteous Kill is a whodunit cop thriller about a serial killer in New York City who targets criminals, leaving little poems at the crime scenes. Eventually the investigating officers (De Niro and Pacino) conclude the killer must be a cop. And because the only characters in the movie are either cops or criminals, it means just about every character is a suspect. And Righteous Kill is filled with red herrings; there isn't a character in the movie the film doesn't try to make seem like the killer at some point, however implausible. And it opens with De Niro's character confessing to a video camera that he's the killer. But given the kind of movie this is, it's clear within seconds that there's more going on than meets the eye, so despite his apparent confession (and the film's constant, heavy-handed suggestions that he's the killer), De Niro's character is the only one who can be reasonably assumed to be innocent. Now none of this, on paper, is all that bad. And add to that the pairing of De Niro and Pacino, and it's sort of amazing this movie isn't at least watchable for them alone. But wiser critics than I have noticed a distinct drop-off in Pacino's give-a-rat's-ass-o-meter these past few years (exemplified in his previous thriller, 88 Minutes, which was also directed by Righteous Kill producer/director Jon Avnet; I haven't seen 88 Minutes but I've heard nothing but terrible, terrible things about it), and after watching Righteous Kill, I can attest to that. De Niro’s character is a bit more low-key – he’s filled with rage that bubbles just beneath the surface, something he specializes in – while Pacino just looks bored, strolling through scenes and dropping his lines as if he were giving his order at a deli. I’d say it’s a shame, but the script, by Inside Man screenwriter Russell Gerwitz, is so weak that I can sort of sympathize with his lack of enthusiasm. The only actors I thought were doing decent work were John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg as a pair of fellow cops helping De Niro and Pacino on the case (or are they?!?!?). Righteous Kill is a thriller with zero thrills. The bulk of the movie is just Gerwitz and Avnet trying to misdirect the viewer with sloppy red herrings and plot threads that go nowhere. Gerwitz explains in one of the extras that when he writes a movie like this he starts with the twist and writes backwards. And while I’m sure many great whodunits have been created that way, in the case of Righteous Kill, it just makes the twist (which I won’t spoil other than to say it’s silly, and involves a ridiculous bit of misdirection that the back of the DVD box tipped me off to) all the more far-fetched. It seems like Gerwitz was trying far harder to shock viewers than to create a twist that made any sort of logical sense for the character involved. Overall, Righteous Kill, despite re-teaming Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, has pretty much nothing to recommend it. I know it gets dry out there in the video stores sometimes, but if you’re thinking of checking out Righteous Kill, just re-watch Heat. Or if you want a twisty, morally ambiguous cop thriller, track down a little film called Narc with Jason Patric and Ray Liotta, or the 1985 William Friedkin classic To Live And Die In L.A., with a pre-CSI William Petersen. Those are all movies that, to varying degrees, successfully cover territory Righteous Kill tries – and fails – to cover. Do yourself a favour and avoid this one.
The Righteous Kill DVD has a few extras on it, including audio commentary with producer/director Jon Avnet. Avnet is boring as hell, and his quiet, vaguely monotone voice make this commentary track great for insomniacs. He seems almost defensive about comparisons to the obviously far (FAR) superior Heat, pointing out that he had a limited budget and shot the movie in 35 days, whereas Heat had over 100 shooting days. The trouble is, nobody else mentioned Heat, so his bringing it up himself, apropos of nothing, seems like he knows he made a bad movie. Avnet is remarkably pretentious considering how pedestrian and weak his movies seem to be. Maybe he should stick to producing. “If the quality of my work is not great or doesn’t rise above mediocrity,” Avnet says at one point on the track, “it won’t be for a lack of effort on my part.” I guess it’s good to know that Righteous Kill sucks despite Avnet’s best efforts. There’s also a brief making-of mini-documentary that’s pretty standard stuff. More than half of it is the rest of the cast and crew gushing about De Niro and Pacino. The coolest extras is a 20-minute featurette that uses the film’s plot purely as a jumping-off point to explore the topic of police corruption. It’s actually very interesting, and I wish it ran longer. The narration is incredibly cheesy, however, and for such gritty subject matter, the narrator shouldn’t sound like the MovieFone guy. Still, it’s quite interesting, and despite the regular, shoehorned-in references to the movie, it’s really a standalone piece about real-life examples of police corruption and the “blue wall of silence” seen in the film. It’s surprisingly well-produced for a featurette of this kind, complete with re-enactments and everything. It’s too bad the movie it’s bolted onto isn’t better.
Labels: DVD review
A blog about movies, by a guy who probably watches too many.