I take no pleasure in my prematurely negative assumptions turning out to be absolutely correct.  Believe that or not.  There is no joy in Mudville. 


Checked out a matinee of Righteous Kill.  It was a non-event.  A non-event, I say.  How does a New York cop movie starring Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino, two men responsible for some of the greatest and most legendary films of the last forty years, turn out to be a non-event?


My intention with what I write here is usually to search out the positive.  I don’t want to take my time or anybody else’s by slagging on someone else’s hard work.  It’s not in my best interests; it’s not fun for me; it’s not my style.  I come here to celebrate movies. 


But Righteous Kill was just so resolutely enervating, and it didn’t have to be.


It’s never entirely fair to blame the script.  So much happens during the course of development and production that by the time a flawed movie hits theaters, the screenwriter is almost never the root cause of the problem.  Think of it this way:  there must have been something promising happening at script level in order to attract such impressive actors.  But in this case, I can say that the script’s essential concept of serial killer who is also probably a cop is, like so much of the finished product of Righteous Kill, vintage 1991.  Not to mention the arguably dishonest slight-of-hand the script plays with the two lead character names in order to obfuscate the central mystery of the story, and the eventual “shocking” reveal which I won’t ruin here, though I’m not sure why I don’t.


As far as what went wrong, sorry to say but I’d think you’d have to look at the director’s role.  It’s the director’s job to fire up the actors, to clear up the script questions, to inspire the general look of the thing.   The sometimes confusing and disorienting continuity of the shot choices, the inexplicable framing, the sluggish pacing, and the fact that the movie was set and shot in New York and looks for all the world like L.A. (high ceilings everywhere!) – all of these bullet points are the responsibility of the director.


Also, one of the strengths of a better movie starring two high-powered lead actors, like say, Heat, is that they surround the leads with vividly-cast, colorfully delineated supporting characters.  Righteous Kill does not bother to attempt that.  50 Cent was worse than expected.  Brian Dennehy was hardly in the thing.  Carla Gugino was once again the prettiest thing about a junk movie; smart and sharp and well deserving of a less thankless role.  Leguizamo and Wahlberg were solid, but left with little to do.  Frank John Hughes, known to us Band of Brothers aficionados as Bill Guarnere, manages to make a ferocious impression as one of the mutts the lead pair send to jail, but guess how much screen time he gets?


As for the two names above the title:  I don’t think you can say that Pacino and DeNiro don’t care any more.  I hear that argument way too often and it just can’t be true.  There are just too many brave and interesting choices and performances over the last two decades, and I can go toe-to-toe AT LENGTH with any challengers to that opinion.  So, no.  They still care.  Both are still the badasses we all love.  It’s just that, in this case, as happens with any other underutilized actor, they’re not energized by the material.  There are spots even here where their genius is still evident, albeit in secondary flashes.  It’s like the hope you get when you’re trying to start a campfire and you see a spark, but the kindle is way too wet for a fire to take hold.


There is one bit of unintentional poetry in Righteous Kill, however:  Early on, there’s a shot of a beleaguered Pacino in the foreground with an out-of-focus Yankee Stadium in the background.  It had a particular melancholy resonance to this New Yorker – an embattled aging gladiator pausing for a moment before heading away from a ruined coliseum, itself a casualty of the machinations of a cruel business, soon to be consigned to history. 


Don’t take too much from that flowery ramble though; there’s still plenty of fight left in the gladiator in question.  Maybe on the next picture.  After all, that’s the job.