A De Niro/Pacino team-up movie should be a big deal, unfortunately this Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are but saggy, wrinkled shells of their former selves. Though De Niro may occasionally play the odd gay pirate, most of their cinematic life is now spent wandering around in pedantic cop movies going through the motions, while we all pretend they’re still relevant. This year, Bob and Al have chosen to do their latest, second-rate cop/thriller movie together. I suppose we owe them thanks, for sparing us from having to sit through two of these stinkers.
In Righteous Kill, De Niro and Pacino play NYPD detectives. They’re partners and best friends. The movie starts with a grainy, video confession from De Niro, in which he admits to secretly being a serial killer while at the same time working as a cop. So of course we instantly know that he can’t possibly be the serial killer, and then spend the next ninety minutes watching and waiting to see how the movie will get out of the corner it has just painted itself in. It does so, via the obligatory twist at the end, which isn’t much of a twist since anyone with any sense has been expecting it for at least an hour.
Since the story itself provides no real pizzaz, the film’s only pleasures must come from simply watching two of cinema’s most legendary actors play off one another. They do, and at times it’s good. Other times, they look like old women wearing leather jackets and packing heat on their way to a quilting bee. De Niro and Pacino are simply too old to keep playing these bad-ass cop characters. It doesn’t work anymore. They look like they belong in a workshop with your grandpa, tinkering with old cars or engaging in woodworking projects to stave off the boredom of retirement. The life has been sucked out of them, the rigors of time have put a stoop in Al Pacino’s shoulders, the stress of simply living has darkened and aged Robert De Niro’s eyes.
Unfortunately, Righteous Kill director Jon Avnet doesn’t seem to have noticed that Al Pacino now has only one facial expression (half-surprised, half-disinterested) or that De Niro’s belly has expanded beyond recognition. Maybe the film could have worked had he treated them like the elderly police detectives that they appear as, but from the film’s first moment he goes out of his way to frame them as tough, imposing action heroes. It’s as if Avnet thinks he’s Michael Mann shooting Heat thirteen years ago. Well he’s not, and he isn’t. Welcome to 2008 Jon Avnet.
It’s not that Righteous Kill is really awful, it’s just painfully mediocre. There’s plenty of drama and the characters are fairly well put together. Carla Gugino is good in a supporting role as a sexy cop with a love for rough sex. Some of the dialogue between De Niro and Pacino is engaging and since they are who they are, it’s delivered with energy. But then there’s the movie’s big death scene, in which a dying man’s last words are laughably, “I wish you continued success.” It may be the worst death scene ever filmed. Righteous Kill is the wrong movie with the wrong cast and all the wrong ideas about how to make an exciting crime thriller. It’s time De Niro and Pacino moved on from these sorts of movies to do something more age appropriate. What about a remake of Cocoon? That’s where they belong.