NPR logo 'Righteous Kill': A Subpar 'Dexter,' With De Niro

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'Righteous Kill': A Subpar 'Dexter,' With De Niro

Robert De Niro gets his respect on in Righteous Kill. Overture Films hide caption

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Robert De Niro gets his respect on in Righteous Kill.

Overture Films

Righteous Kill

  • Director: Jon Avnet
  • Genre: Crime Drama
  • Running Time: 100 minutes

Rated R: Violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and brief drug use.

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'Are You Sleeping Well?'

'There's Dumb, and Dumber'

'It's A Cop'

Hear that? Word is either De Niro or co-star Al Pacino (right) is playing a character with a secret. Overture Films hide caption

toggle caption Overture Films

Hear that? Word is either De Niro or co-star Al Pacino (right) is playing a character with a secret.

Overture Films

Hug it out: Curtis Jackson (aka 50 Cent, from left), Pacino and De Niro find they need a moment to regroup. Overture Films hide caption

toggle caption Overture Films

Hug it out: Curtis Jackson (aka 50 Cent, from left), Pacino and De Niro find they need a moment to regroup.

Overture Films

Here's a theory: Al Pacino agreed to work with director Jon Avnet again after last year's frantic, idiotic thriller 88 Minutes because the director promised him that in Righteous Kill, he wouldn't have to do anything fast.

In contrast to his blustering, increasingly frenetic costar Robert De Niro (playing the other half of a homicide-detective team), Pacino gets loads of time for reaction shots. He sits quietly while rival officers Donnie Wahlberg and John Leguizamo are puffing up their chests. He offers a cool voice of reason when a drug dealer (50 Cent) lets his temper flare.

In short, Pacino's the relaxed half of the above-the-title team, stealing focus by strolling through scenes his partner is forced to take at a gallop — and who wouldn't sign on for that?

I also have a theory as to why De Niro agreed to co-star: as publicity for the coming 2009 video-game version of Heat, a Pacino-De Niro crime drama that actually managed to generate a little heat.

What I can't come up with, though, is a theory that explains the slack, morally ambiguous, decidedly sub-Dexter serial-killer-cop story that's been cooked up for them.

The film lets you know right at the start that one of the stars — their characters' names are Turk and Rooster, for what that's worth — has anointed himself a sort of antisocial safety net for New York City, killing bad guys who slip through the legal system and (for reasons known only to screenwriter Russell Gewirtz) leaving terrible poetry near their corpses.

There's a lot of fairly obvious subterfuge in the film's staging of both crimes and investigations, which mostly serves to alert you to the fact that something's up — meaning you get to the film's entirely predictable (and lackadaisical) conclusion long before the filmmakers are ready to reveal it.

None of which would matter much if there were better chemistry between the stars, but they strike more sparks with the forensics specialist — Carla Gugino, who gets Pacino to talk kinky and expects De Niro to do a lot more than talk — than they do with each other.

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