Enduring a contrived and convoluted crime drama would be worthwhile if it featured powerhouse performances from the two best screen actors of their generation. Such is not the case in “Righteous Kill,” which wastes the talents of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino while squandering the time and good will of the audience.
The stars play Turk and Rooster, New York police detectives nearing the end of their 30-year partnership. Rather than coast into retirement, they elect to tackle one last big case. A vigilante has been killing criminals who escaped the legal system, leaving poems mocking the victims as a calling card.
One of the pair is in it to catch the murderer, the other to impede the investigation so that the “righteous kills” can continue. The film implicates one of the cops immediately through a videotaped confession, then leads viewers through a labyrinth of red herrings and misdirection to put his admission of guilt in doubt.
De Niro and Pacino had minimal screen time together in “Heat.” Here, they're practically inseparable. De Niro plays a raging bull at the end of his days and Pacino is his wry sidekick – but they're seriously off their game. Not that the inferior screenplay gives them much to work with. Their dialogue is generic cop talk and boilerplate banter.
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Director Jon Avnet stumbles through the story, never building the momentum an engaging cop yarn requires. In its place, he tries to goose up the wearisome tale by dropping in another killing every few minutes. By the time the glacially paced film delivers its final forehead-slapping switcheroo, you might feel like you've qualified for your own retirement dinner.