Righteous Kill

Saturday 07th December 2013

You know when a film comes along that looks really promising but gets slammed by everyone so you don’t bother going to see it? You know, like X-Men: The Last Stand; the first two films were really good and they said this film would be just as good, but with Frasier playing Beast, and it had Angel in the trailer, and Colossus actually doing stuff, so everyone was pretty excited. Until it came out and everyone said it was the nastiest pile of steaming excrement imaginable, made even worse by the presence of Vinnie Jones. So I didn’t watch it.

But with films like that there’s this crushing sense of inevitability that I will eventually have to watch it. Because it should be good. I keep telling myself “I really liked the first two, so how bad can this one be? Maybe I can just mentally edit Vinnie Jones out and then it will just be a lightly steaming pile of excrement. I could live with that, as long as there’s no Vinnie Jones.” Sadly with that particular film, even if I could have erased Vinnie Jones out of all existence using the power of my mind, the rest of the film would have remained, and it steamed pretty heavily.

You might be wondering how any of this relates to Righteous Kill. Unless you’ve seen Righteous Kill, in which case you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about. Much was made of the fact that it was the first film Robert De Niro and Al Pacino had done together since Heat. Most people will agree that these two guys were the greatest actors of their generation. At least up until De Niro did Analyse This. Pacino’s still fairly respectable. But Heat was amazing, so everyone got all excited about the prospect of De Niro and Pacino going head to head again. Until the film actually happened and everyone unanimously and unequivocally decided it was shit.

So I didn’t bother watching Righteous Kill until yesterday, five years after it was released, when that feeling of inevitability finally got the better of me. And I couldn’t find anything else to watch.

Now, I know exactly what you all want to ask; is it as bad as it was made out to be? And the answer to that very pertinent question is YES. Righteous Kill is very bad. Now you want to ask; “But isn’t the badness of it overshadowed by the sheer brilliance of having Tony Montana and Jake LaMotta in the same film? Doesn’t the presence of both Michael Corleone and Al Capone together outweigh any shitness that may be inherent in the rest of the film?” And the answer to that question would be NO.

I’m not blaming De Niro and Pacino for the entire train wreck that is Righteous Kill, but I will say they didn’t do anything to elevate it. Granted, when a script is this unremarkable and the direction this uninspiring, it is nigh impossible for an actor to give his best performance, but watching this I really felt the pair of them may as well have turned up in their pyjamas and read their lines straight from the script, periodically pausing to make comments like “Do I really have to say that?” or “I wish I’d been more careful with my money.” In recent years De Niro appears to have become a caricature of his former self; he gurns his way through every film like a constipated, geriatric Mafioso who’s lost his car keys. Pacino on the other hand is possibly still capable of acting. Although he seems happy enough to waste those talents in terrible adverts for Sky Broadband. The last real acting I personally witnessed him doing was in The Merchant of Venice back in 2004, and he was really good. In Righteous Kill Pacino gives the distinct impression that he knows the film is awful and thus can’t be bothered to do anything more than raise his eyebrows sardonically at everything that happens. He looked as bored as I felt.

I don’t particularly like 50 Cent. I don’t like his music. Or his face. Or his voice. Or his attitude. Or his fur coats. You could say I’m not a fan. His presence was the biggest reason I put off watching Righteous Kill for so long. However, I am a big enough man to admit when I’m wrong. Fiddy did not ruin this movie. Don’t misunderstand me here; he wasn’t great. I wasn’t amazed and shocked at the depth of his performance. I wasn’t moved to tears by his emotional intensity. But I wasn’t bothered by him either. There’s only so much anyone can do with the part of a drug dealing nightclub-owner named Spider and 50 Cent makes the character as believable as it can be. Unlike Vinnie Jones, he actually says his lines as if he understands what they mean. And he takes a kick in the ribs admirably. In fact (not that I want to sing the guy’s praises or anything) he gave a similarly inoffensive performance in his own (allegedly) biographical film Get Rich or Die Tryin’. It won’t change your perception of the man but it also won’t make you angry. Unless you hate his music, because the film’s full of it.

Anyway, getting back to Righteous Kill, there were two other actors who didn’t annoy me. John Leguizamo was pretty inoffensive playing a small, Latino policeman. Obviously two of those requirements aren’t really much of a stretch for him. If you don’t know Leguizamo you need to watch Spike Lee’s film Summer of Sam. If you do know Leguizamo, please don’t let his name trick you into thinking Righteous Kill is worth watching. Much like Fiddy, he does what he can with a woefully one-dimensional character who’s only in the script to wind up Robert De Niro’s grumpy cop. Donnie Wahlberg is in the same boat, the character doesn’t stretch him at all. He’s only there to stand between De Niro and Leguizamo because the writers didn’t have the guts to let them fight.

What can I say about the story? Not much. There’s nothing original about Righteous Kill. The plot’s set up as if there’s going to be a mind-blowing twist at the end. But when it eventually comes, the twist isn’t really a twist. It’s too obvious to be a twist. I saw it coming less than halfway through the film. Not saying that to be boastful or anything; if you can figure out how to put the DVD in the player, you can figure out the twist in Righteous Kill. I was actually a little bit insulted when it turned out I had predicted it right; “Really? You really thought I was dumb enough not to see that coming? Screw you Hollywood!”

The ‘plot’, if you insist on calling it that, revolves around a pair of decrepit eighty year old cops who somewhat disturbingly seem to believe they’re still twenty-one. It appears that everyone else in the film is somehow labouring under the same false impression as well because no one ever tells the two old gits to retire. There are a lot of terrible jokes made by both characters, none of which are along the lines of “I’m too old for this shit.” The way they both constantly dog the only female character in the film is a bit disturbing. The pair of them must be nearly three times the age of Carla Gugino but De Niro’s character has sex with her on the kitchen floor of her apartment and Pacino spends most of the film hitting on her with all the tact of a teenage rapist.

At the point when De Niro faces up to Fifty Cent, who must be half his age and twice his size, I did actually laugh. I don’t think it was supposed to be funny… but I couldn’t help it. Even in his Raging Bull days, I wouldn’t have bet on De Niro in that fight. These days, even a self-proclaimed thug like Fiddy would probably walk away rather than hit the old geezer. But of course, this is a film, so De Niro has him on the floor with little more effort than a poorly delivered and even more poorly written one-liner.

I realise I haven’t actually said much about the plot; I did try but there’s honestly nothing worth mentioning. I have to confess I spent most of the time wishing it was over rather than drinking in the details. There’s a vigilante killer who’s murdering naughty people. For no reason whatsoever he leaves an excruciatingly childish poem at the scene of each murder. You’ll guess who it is before the first victim’s corpse hits the floor so please save yourself the time and effort of watching this and just spend an hour and forty-one minutes counting your pubic hairs instead.

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