What a hoary load of bullshit this movie is. Are movies like this made to keep old actors busy? Is this the movie equivalent of an allotment or Neighbourhood Watch scheme? It’s easier to picture it that way; some feelings of sympathy might even arise in me if I could see this as two old men pottering about, amusing themselves. Maybe if they’d both stop dyeing their hair I might even be tempted not to stick the boot in. But Righteous Kill is a noxious, ego-fuelled, cliché-ridden, misogynist fire-hazard of a movie, and Bob De Niro and his little buddy Al should be ashamed of themselves. From Taxi Driver and Serpico to this in three decades takes some (un)doing.
There’s a psycho on the loose! But with a twist! He only kills bad people. Paunchy cops Al Pacino and Bob De Niro are on the case, though from the outset we’re watching a grainy video of De Niro confessing to the crimes. At first, you figure this is because we’re meant to be siding with Bobby (we’ve all seen Death Wish, afterall), but no – there are other cops on the case too, and they’re acting like this vigilante stuff is not so ok for police officers. De Niro’s not so keen on the other cops, but he spends a good deal of the movie acting like everyone pisses him off. Even his love interest (Carla Gugino, 37 to Bob’s 65) doesn’t raise a smile.
How bad is De Niro here? Oh, only about as bad as usual. Age has not withered the man; it’s just made him lazy. He’s playing a tough guy, so he boils it down to three expressions: stoic (when he goes blank), irritable (when his frown tries to lasso his chin) and angry (blank + the frown). Never mind that his character would have retired ten years ago. Never mind that the rough sex (and his character, and most of the movie) is borrowed from Dirty Harry. Bob De Niro has played a grouchy cop in every other movie he’s made for the past decade, and even true believers would have to concede he’s been repeating himself. Here, his name is Turk. Is this a play on “turkey”? Is De Niro himself, like the villain of Righteous Kill, so tired of murder (and his last few have been murder) that he’s calling us out?
Al Pacino is at his side, hair black (as ever), pushing 70 and still virile (sorta). Not for Pacino anything even resembling a stretch. They offer him Philip Roth adaptations and he turns ’em down flat. For what? For this? For the chance to work with Jon Avnet again (Again?!! After 88 Minutes?!!). For the chance to be a cop in a movie that Brian Dennehy looks embarrassed to be in. Whoever Pacino’s agent is, my bet is he’s an idiot. Or maybe it’s some kind of fraternity-of-Italian-actors thing which propels Al into the depths of genre nothingness. Pacino plays a guy who wouldn’t make sense if he was half Al’s age (who wouldn’t make sense if he was a quarter Al’s age). He has a “reason I did it” speech at the end that makes his “reason I did it” speech from The Recruit feel like Ibsen.
Carla Gugino looks great, but likewise – she needs a new agent. She’s come about six inches from where Brian De Palma found her in Snake Eyes (hourglass figure and a concealed weapon). If she doesn’t stop soon, she’ll be Sharon Stone No. 2.
Movies like Righteous Kill bug me because they’re like investment properties. No-one involved could care less what they’re like, as long as they make a return on the investment. You can feel it in the lazy casting (big name leads, black drug dealer, Russian hard man…), the lazy location scouting (the bar, the abandoned warehouse, streets and apartments and EVERYTHING that could be anywhere… so we’re in New York the way Friends is in New York), the lazy script that treats lines like “How ’bout those Mets last night?” as character-specific. I’m not saying movies like this should set the world alight, but when they end in a warehouse… Those involved should seriously think about retirement, or start acting their age.