Righteous Kill (Overture Films; R)

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film_righteous_sm.jpgThese guys are too watchable to be boring, so you end up enjoying the little moments—the nuances in their delivery, the way they look at each other and react.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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DeNiro. Pacino. Titans of method acting. Cinema icons. Utterers of some of the most famous lines of dialogue ever spoken on screen. Long-time pals. Without a doubt, "Bobby" DeNiro and Al Pacino are legendary stars, and it's somewhat mystifying that no one ever got them together on film before Michael Mann accomplished the deed in 1995's Heat. But they only had two scenes together in that project, both quite riveting and still talked about today. The prospect of getting them together again to share more screen time had to be a tantalizing one, and was something the old friends were actively seeking. Which brings us to Righteous Kill, the new Jon Avnet-directed police drama that finds the two stars appearing together for most of the film's length. And the question is, do they generate the excitement and the buzz that those scenes in Heat possessed?

The answer is: fleetingly. For about half its length, Righteous Kill doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Turk (DeNiro) and Rooster (Pacino) are aging cops in the NYPD homicide division who've been doing face time together on the beat for years, and they've seen too many cases of low-life criminals beating the rap on a technicality. Someone seems to be helping them by offing these bad guys, and the pair badly wants to solve the case. The killer leaves a short poem at the scene of every crime, and evidence seems to be pointing to someone on the force. Could it be the temperamental Detective Perez (John Leguizamo)? The seemingly mild-mannered Detective Ted Riley (Donnie Wahlberg)? And what is forensic specialist Karen Corelli's (Carla Gugino) intuition telling her when she's not sleeping with colleague Turk or attempting to collate evidence on her computer?

None of this is too compelling initially, until you settle into the easy groove that Pacino and DeNiro have with each other on screen. The former seems to be the methodical, patient one; the latter's a bit of a hothead, prone to stirring up trouble and resentment on the force with his impulsive ways. The two stars are so familiar to us and to each other that there's a certain amount of enjoyment just watching them go through the acting paces, even if the script by Russell Gewirtz (who also penned the superior Inside Man) lacks excitement and potency. Considering the "bigness" and genuine edge of DeNiro's and Pacino's most famous work, it's surprising how relatively low-key they are in these roles. Maybe they were reined in on purpose; there's certainly no "Hoo-ah" or "You talkin' to me?" moments here. But these guys are too watchable to be boring, so you end up enjoying the little moments—the nuances in their delivery, the way they look at each other and react. There's a point where the energy level of the movie picks up, right about where the younger cops start feeling some serious friction from their elders in the investigation.

Righteous Kill is no classic, and in some quarters, they're already saying the big boys are slumming in this rather modest little cop show. I'd say it's more that they're just takin' it a bit easier, enjoying the chance to act together in the sort of movie they've both made before, but with enough variations of character to maintain their interest. No breaking of ground, then -- just two old friends breaking cinematic bread together once more, even if the crust's a little stale and the spread not quite as flavorful as you'd hope. | Kevin Renick

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