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Movie Review: Righteous Kill

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I’ve been waiting for Robert De Niro and Al Pacino to do a movie together forever. Now I’m waiting for them to do a good one.

I know, that sounds kind of harsh, but after plunking down the bucks and spending months in happy expectation, I’m owed a sour grape or two on this review. That feeling doesn’t come from the acting. Both of them are as good as it gets, at the top of their respective games. But both of them get measured by the material they waded into.

I liked the initial scenes of them working a case together when a child killer gets off and De Niro decides to frame him for another murder. That plot point comes directly from the noir genre, when the good guy does a bad thing even though it’s for a good reason. That one small act sets up the ramifications that are to come.

If De Niro and Pacino weren’t involved in this movie, I don’t think audiences would have paid much attention. The trailers all paint it to be a serial killer movie where the serial killer is a cop. In fact, I was surprised to see the script take so long to develop that idea.

However, there is a big conceit in the film that sets up a nice twist (although I had it figured out before we got there, though admittedly there were some curves along the way). Unfortunately, that twist also prevents me from talking about parts of the movie, the good and the bad.

The movie plays with time a lot, going back and forth with things as it escalates the action and builds suspense. De Niro and Pacino bring their respective characters to life almost effortlessly, and they play off each other well. However, the plot is almost a cookie-cutter serial killer movie that I’ve seen time after time. Even De Niro and Pacino couldn’t remove that miasma of familiarity.

One of the more stellar arcs of the movie is the enmity expressed between the two homicide teams vying for the lead on the murders. John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg deliver understated yet believable performances as the rival detective team.

Carla Gugino, beautiful as ever, portrays a hard-nosed forensic cop involved with De Niro’s character. I had really mixed feelings about her character, but I think I was supposed to have those. Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson plays a gang banger leader who becomes interwoven in the plot. Brian Dennehy is the crotchety boss that’s in every crime flick, leaning on the heroes and threatening to pull them off the case.

The city shots and action in the streets is well done. I felt like I was out there with them, running through alleys, and surrounded by cavernous buildings.

However, the murders and the notes accompanying them just feel like retreads. Playing with the time, shooting back and forth between the past and the present, helps offset some of the plodding nature of the investigation, but not by much.

I enjoyed watching De Niro and Pacino. I always do. But they just needed something stronger to do in this movie than what they had. When the final frames played through, with the terribly predictable ending after all the secrets had been revealed, I felt robbed in a way. I got De Niro and Pacino, but I didn’t get the movie that I was led to believe would be delivered.

If you missed it in the theaters, the movie will be a good DVD rental. I’ll pick up a copy for nostalgia and watch it again when I’m not feeling so critical, but I don’t think I’ll change my opinion about the package.

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