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Originally published September 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 12, 2008 at 9:28 AM

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Movie review

"Righteous Kill": De Niro and Pacino need to get off their laurels and pick better scripts

Robert De Niro and Al Pacino reteam for "Righteous Kill," but the rote thriller is no "Heat." A review by Mark Rahner.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Movie review 1.5 stars

"Righteous Kill," with Robert De Niro,

Al Pacino, Carla Gugino, John Leguizamo, Donnie Wahlberg, Curtis Jackson, Brian Dennehy. Directed by Jon Avnet, from a screenplay by Russell Gurwitz. 100 minutes. Rated R for violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and brief drug use. Several theaters.

"Righteous Kill" is a title you can't hear or read without also expecting to hear the word, "Dude," at the end. This one's a buzzkill (dude). And it's not about homicidal surfers.

It's a re-pairing of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino 13 years after their iconic faceoff as crook and cop in Michael Mann's immortal "Heat." Except without any of that electricity, tension or style, and with heroes looking and acting nearly as tired as the plot. How can you put these guys together and wind up with something that isn't supremely cool (dude)? What a waste.

In short, don't expect another "Heat," unless you're thinking of an ointment.

This time, instead of adversaries, they're detectives who've been partners for three decades. Essentially an old married couple. Turk (De Niro) is the doughy, violent bull with a much younger, kinkier cop girlfriend (Carla Gugino, soon in "Watchmen"). Rooster (Pacino) is the smooth, charming one, with the strangely inappropriate hair and tan for a man his age.

In what appears to be a videotaped confession, Turk tells of crossing the line to frame a child-killer who got off on a technicality, and then a series of murders linked by lousy poems left at the scenes, which include that of a brutal pimp, a pedophile priest and a caricaturishly sneering rapist who slithered through the cracks of the legal system — in other words, "righteous" kills (dude).

With a pair of relatively younger cops (John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg) also on the case, it doesn't take long to deduce that this poem-leaving "Death Wish" vigilante serial-killer is probably a fellow cop, and that cop is likely our narrator — who now resembles the criminal drawing on the gun-range targets they expertly perforate.

There only seem to be two options, either one devoid of filmmaking suspense or craft: The situation really is that obvious, and the filmmakers are taking an inept stab at ratcheting up a James Ellroy kind of tension about a dirty cop whose world is closing in from all sides; or there's some Big Twist and you'll feel like a passive victim of admission, parking and popcorn when you're rethinking everything you just watched. When Turk threatens a freed rapist in a courtroom full of witnesses and the guy turns up heavier of lead and lighter of blood soon afterward, you don't need a warrant to kick in the door to Hotel Obvious.

"Righteous Kill" isn't a total bummer if you simply like watching these guys at work. They only had a few intense-but-memorable minutes on-screen together in "Heat," but plenty of time here. Pacino especially has some nice, rakish moments; the partners enjoy pop culture riffs that seem a bit Gen-X for them but funny; and the Leguizamo/Wahlberg team is allowed some snappy patter, too.

But even allowing for the alpha male/younger female dynamic, the coupling between De Niro, 65, with Gugino, 37, will strike all but the most devoted lechers as implausible bordering on emetic.

Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259


Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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