Pacino and DeNiro team up one more time for Righteous Kill, a somnambulant thriller that might have been better titled No City for Old Men. It's a decaffeinated serial-killer cop-drama, directed with lots of close-ups and not a lot of style by Al Pacino's 88 Minutes collaborator, Jon Avnet.
The Godfather and Heat vets play aged, impatient NYPD detectives, long in the tooth and fed up with seeing the murderers, rapists and others they put so much effort and hate into getting off the streets released by stickler judges and soft-headed juries.
Turk (Robert DeNiro) has the volcanic manner of a guy half his age — "a pit bull on crack" exploding in rage at youth softball games, at suspects, at lawyers. He's into the rough stuff with his sometime girlfriend, a crime-scene investigator (Carla Gugino) whose taste for violent sex delivers a few unintentional laughs. And Turk's the one whose videotaped "confession" frames the picture, serves as its narration. "I've killed 14 people," he growls at the camera, and we can believe it. "Think of me as a street sweeper."
Rooster (Pacino) is his fast-talking partner of 30 years. They're like an old married couple. Instead of sex, they connect at the firing range. And unlike old marrieds, they still talk — incessantly. They banter about Underdog's role in creating a generation of drug addicts, their work and the case that they're assigned to. Somebody is killing guys they arrested, and leaving little poems behind.
"He took what women had to give. He had no right to live."
A younger pair of detectives (John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg) start to smell a rat — "It's a cop! It's a cop! It's a cop!"
Avnet, as he proved with 88 Minutes, is lousy at creating and building suspense, at giving us a thriller that promises thrills. How he landed in this corner of film after starting out with Fried Green Tomatoes is this movie's only mystery.
But there's pleasure in watching two faces we've seen for 40 years take on roles they've aged past and do it with verve, even if the dialogue is so trite that we're treated to variations of "You gonna do this thing?" Rapper 50 Cent plays a drug dealer, badly. But Brian Dennehy, also entirely too old to be playing their lieutenant (they all would have been promoted beyond these ranks years ago) more than holds his own with Pacino and DeNiro.
It's too bad Righteous Kill doesn't make use of all this experience in the characters and the actors playing them. Everybody involved has earned a more righteous movie, and a more righteous director, than this.