"Someday a real rain will come
and wash all this scum off the streets." Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver, 1976. Thirty odd years later and Robert De Niro has finally taken those words to heed in Righteous Kill, playing a crooked cop dishing out street justice to evil-doers alongside fellow crusader Al Pacino in a match-up that's had fanboys salivating since news of the movie's existence. Sadly, the rain Bickle predicted turned out to be more of a light drizzle, a damp shower - certainly not the thunderstorm that this long-awaited pairing of cinematic heavyweights deserved.
It didn't take a weatherman to see this cold front coming. De Niro and Pacino have both been coasting for years; the former moving awkwardly (and unconvincingly) into comedy
of late; the latter cruising into grandstanding self-parody; both men's gaze has slowly shifted from critical acclaim to commercial reward. Perhaps they can't be blamed: they're two legendary actors in their twilight years who seem happy to rest on their laurels and count their money. Nonetheless, it's still a shame to see two genuine icons phoning it in and you can multiply that crushing disappointment twofold when they both do it in the same movie.
De Niro and Pacino are Rooster and Turk; fitting, as they play two old cocks strutting around the NYC police yard. Their fair city is falling to pieces, with various legal deficiencies meaning rapists and murderers are free to walk the streets. Someone, however, is taking the law into their own hands and rubbing out these undesirables, killing the killers and leaving behind fruity little poems at the scene. The movie opens with Rooster apparently confessing his crimes to camera, but could De Niro's lacklustre line readings actually point to a set-up? Go on. Have a guess.
The first time De Niro and Pacino shared celluloid was The Godfather Part II. The first time they shared the screen was Michael Mann's awesome Heat
. Fairly obviously, Righteous Kill isn't even in the same league as either; it's an undeserving vehicle for both men that's only attention-worthy due to the leads' inexplicable interest in the source material. The blunt script isn't half as clever as it thinks it is, shoehorning in forced banter about cartoon characters and LCD TVs along with typically profane tough guy trash talk. "I hate scumbags, I like shooting people. What have I lost?" De Niro drawls. Credibility, for one: at what point did the 65 year-old think what his audience wanted was a sex scene and to hear him talking about his sperm levels? Pacino doesn't come across much better, tanned a worrying shade of orange and with hair like war.
But even if both leads knocked it out of the park, Righteous Kill would still be an average film. Jon Avnet - who's also behind Pacino's current stinker 88 Minutes - proves a less-than competent director, his clumsy staging completely failing to mask one of the most obvious and telegraphed plot twists in recent memory: it'll literally take you minutes to figure it out. The supporting cast provide no relief; John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg struggle as fellow cops opposite the big guns; Carla Gugino is token totty as a voracious CSI being balled by Bobby; 50 Cent struggles even to play a blinged-out entrepreneur. It's an effort to stay interested, especially when you've already guessed the movie's trump card.
It's not a complete dead loss. Among the stinkers in the screenplay are some choice one-liners ("Most people respect the badge, everyone respects the gun"), the script reading like a compilation of movie taglines. De Niro occasionally shows signs of life, flipping his lid with pleasing regularity. Tragically though, Pacino is DOA in comparison, here only to pick up his paycheque and shoot the shit with his buddy Bob. Together, they make a less than electric double-act: do the two finest actors of their generation - gasp - lack chemistry? It's the only explanation: a murky, muddled, miserable mess, Righteous Kill spends 101 minutes failing to achieve what Heat managed in just six. De Niro? Pacino? Their rain is over.