Back in 1995 when Michael Mann decided to pair Robert De Niro and Al Pacino for his wonderful cops and robbers drama, Heat, he and everyone else were already fully aware of the legendary status of his two main actors. That is why he wisely used their great talents to dig deeper into the motivations and impulses that drive the cops and criminals to do their profession and how one side almost needs the other to create their own sealed universe. The two veteran actors’ latest pairing, Righteous Kill sadly only starts seeming to be about the personalities and motivations until it settles for a mere whodunit.
In other words, like last year’s disappointing The Bucket List, which coupled Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman for the first time, this is a film that just tries to glide on the thespians’ personas rather than expanding on them. Having the two veterans as world-weary cop partners could yield a greater examination of the lifelong frustration with the crime-ridden streets and a justice system that often cannot rectify them. The screenplay by Russell Gewirtz (who last penned the overrated Inside Man) and the direction by Jon Avnet (who directed Pacino in the bomb, 88 Minutes earlier this year) are alas never that ambitious.
There is, of course, the pleasure of watching De Niro and Pacino playing, respectively, Turk and Rooster, cops whom others in the police force deem inseparable like Lennon and McCartney. They deal day in and day out with trying to clean out the scum of the streets, although they are far from clean themselves as they occasionally break the rules of police work such as planting evidence on an acquitted criminal and framing him for another. Their superior, Lt. Hingis (Brian Dennehy) seems to overlook much of that, although he has ordered them to see a police psychiatrist after their recent police brutality towards drug dealer, Spider (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson).