The plan was to draw up the evening's date by gender lines: we would go see the dude movie, and then duck into the lady movie to even things out. Our logic was almost immediately dinged by the first-weekend exit polling that showed women made up the majority of the Righteous Kill audience, too (and, for that matter, few twentysomethings of either gender attended either). But we forged ahead; nothing bonds a relationship like a guilty desire to see a movie almost no one has said is any good.
Indeed, the reviews for Righteous Kill were not encouraging, but I had to see it simply because it's the first full-on Al Pacino/Robert De Niro team-up; even if I weren't solidly half-Italian, that would be pretty enticing. Pacino and De Niro have inched ever closer over their many years on film, occupying separate timelines in The Godfather, Part II, and then, a couple of decades later, spending Heat chasing each other around, save for that perfect coffee-shop scene in the middle of the picture. In Righteous Kill, they share scenes upon scenes. In fact, they're together more often than they're apart, to the point that I feared mainstream cinema's patented ludicrous plot twist -- a revelation that they were the same person all along (the screenplay has a less ridiculous, though hardly more inspired, turn in store).
Apart from those bad-screenwriting jitters, the first chunk of Righteous Kill is sort of fun -- Pacino and De Niro certainly don't create interesting characters, but their banter as grizzled NYPD detectives is playful and relaxed. Having just, earlier this year, seen Pacino at his sleepwalking worst in staggeringly awful 88 Minutes, a film by Righteous Kill's director, the fact that Kill plays more like a TNT original movie from the late nineties than a USA original movie from the early nineties is something of a mild blessing.
But Avnet doesn't exactly get out of the way and let the actors cruise through a straightforward pulp thriller, either -- Pacino and De Niro are still chasing a serial killer, and Avnet still indulges in his bizarre late-career interest in killer's-eye-view shots and women getting brutalized. After the novelty of watching Pacino and De Niro josh each other wears off, you're forced to notice that while their previous semi-collaborations were supported by the likes of Val Kilmer, Ashley Judd, Natalie Portman, William Fichter, Jon Voight, and Tom Sizemore (thirteen years ago) or Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, James Caan, and Bruno Kirby (thirty-four years ago), this one has the more TV-scale back-up of Brian Dennehy, John Leguizamo, Carla Gugino, Donnie Wahlberg, and 50 Cent. Nothing against Dennehy, Leguizamo, or the foxy and sly Gugino (a little bit against 50 Cent, who should leave the inadvisable process of acting through teeth to Tom Cruise); they just don't have the power to juice up such a resolutely uninteresting script.
The movie as a whole is illustrative of the helplessness of screenwriters in the studio system: Russell Gewirtz's first produced screenplay, for Inside Man, looked like a jazzy, twisty tribute to New York City. Anyone watching this second, far junkier twisty New York-set crime thriller will retroactively award even more credit for Inside Man to Spike Lee. Gewirtz's only consolation may be that Righteous Kill isn't memorable enough to keep its own reputation. Its existence will mainly serve to vaguely improve the standing of already-beloved movies; it could be easily retitled In the Mood to Watch Heat.