There seems to be two basic trains of thought on this movie among the different reviews I have read. No one, at least not many that is I would say, would argue that this is a great movie, however, camp one says almost in unison that Righteous Kill is at worst a bad movie made decent by the two greatest living actors of theirs or anybody else’s generation. Camp two argues however that since we have here in this movie, arguably the two greatest living actors of theirs or anybody else’s generation, that the fact that what normally would be just another forgettable but altogether forgivable bad police procedural is now made all the more noticeably horrific by the wasted opportunity you had to create a classic with these two men while they are both still of age to accomplish such a feat. So basically to summarize, one group says this is a bad movie made decent by two great actors, another says this is a bad movie made worse by the fact that the talent of two great actors were wasted in the production of said movie.
I guess I would fall somewhere in the middle of this debate. I had read most of these reviews going in, so perhaps that alone impacted my expectations for the film. Unlike others perhaps, I wasn’t going into this really expecting something as great and memorable as 1997’s ‘Heat’ or any one of dozens of other classic Pacino or De Niro films. I was only hoping for something watchable, something that would go up on the screen for an hour and a half or more and not bore me or insult my intelligence. Well, of those two expectations I can report firstly that I was never really bored during the movie at any point.
The main storyline here revolves around a series of vigilante killings. Turk and Rooster ( Al Pacino and Robert De Niro), two New York City cops who’ve been at this police business for some thirty years a piece, are assigned to investigate the case by their Chief played believably by Brian Dennehy. They are soon paired up with a team of younger cops (John Legiuzamo and Donnie Whalberg) who begin to suspect that the two aging policemen aren’t being completely forthcoming with them. And they aren’t. It is made clear throughout the movie, in fact from the very beginning that one of them is in fact, the vigilante killer. The plot moves along amiably enough like a fairly average episode of Law and Order. Along the way we meet a big time drug dealer played competently by Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson. As far as villains go, you never really despise him, his only purpose it seems is to be abused by Turk and Rooster and eventually serve as the catalyst for a groan inducing ‘swerve’ ending.
Apathetic villains are one of the problems, I felt, that most emphatically held this movie back. The name of the film is of course ‘Righteous Kill’, so therefore you’d expect to at least get some satisfaction, or, if played for drama, be a little unnerved by all the executions. Instead, I mostly found myself not caring whatsoever. These criminals should have either been strongly made out to be vile ruthless scumbags whose murders were a favor to all mankind, or at least have been portrayed as somewhat sympathetic people whose murders would strongly turn you against the man doing the killing. Instead, they are merely executions, for seemingly no reason. Guy gets shot, a poem is left. Cops investigate. Rinse, wash, and repeat until your super duper swerve ending comes in to wrap things all up. Turk and Rooster are meant to be seen as two sides of Clint Eastwood’s ‘Dirty Harry’ character… although Inspector Callahan would’ve never done such sloppy work, nor would he have simply started offing people just because ‘the system was broken’… I am reminded of a quote from Magnum Force, another vigilante cop film, in which Callahan says the following to Cheif Briggs, who is himself the leader of a team of young vigilante cops responsible for numerous slayings throughout the city… “Briggs, I hate the god***n system, but until someone comes along with changes that make sense, I’ll stick with it”…
Other minor annoyances here include having to see both of these senior citizens involved in sex scenes far past their expiration date. That alone is almost reason enough to give this movie a negative star rating. But I will try to overlook that here in this review. From what I’ve said so far you may get the impression that I hated this movie. I did not. It simply existed for an hour and a half and left me with no strong feelings about it whatsoever. As for the debate about whether this is a bad movie made good by two great actors, or a bad movie made worse by the wasting of two great actors, I’d say both statements are accurate to a degree. While the credits rolled I thought of what potential this movie had and how much of it was in fact wasted. I give this movie two stars because that’s the middle of the road rating. As far as recommending it, I do not, but if you want to see it, I wouldn’t discourage you from doing so either. Alas though, the aforementioned movie, ‘Heat’ accomplished far more with these two actors in the mere four or five minutes of combined screen time they had together in that film, than this movie does during its entire one hundred and one minute running time. So what is my final verdict you ask? Go see Heat.