It could have been a dream match-up: Al Pacino and Robert De Niro strapping on the gloves and going 15 rounds, may the best man win. For 35 years, these two Oscar winners have defined what it means to be a male movie actor, De Niro with his bottled-up rage, Pacino with his flamboyant histrionics. Who would win, Serpico or Travis Bickle? They'd mixed it up once before, of course, in 1995's Heat, where they played guys on opposite sides of the law. But director Michael Mann perversely kept them apart until late in the movie, and even then he allowed them only a few feints and jabs. Apparently, they weren't ready to rumble.
And they still aren't, if Righteous Kill is any indication. They have a lot of scenes together, including the most drawn-out death scene since Greta Garbo said bye-bye in Camille. But neither of them flexes any new muscles. On the contrary, they're very supportive of each other, like actors are taught to be. They're on the same side of the law this time around, New York detectives who aren't above bending the rules so that justice might be served. Actually, that's putting it pretty mildly. They're prepared to blow away any perp who gets off on a technicality. One of them's prepared to do it, anyway, and that appears to be De Niro's Turk.
Yes, he's called Turk, and get this: Pacino's character is called Rooster, perhaps because he crows like one. It all sounds like a bad '70s cop show - "Turk and the Rooster" - and, truth be told, it isn't much better than that. Director Jon Avnet couldn't decide whether he was going for gritty or stylized, which makes our boys, with their naturalistic performances, seem like two thoroughbreds on a carousel, acting circles around everybody else, but who really cares? John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg play a younger pair of detectives on the older pair's trail, and they actually seem to have a better feel for what's required.
But who cares about that either? The whole point of making the movie was to allow De Niro and Pacino to inhabit the same space, and if they don't exactly rise to the occasion, they don't exactly back down either. Their increasingly worn faces, their aging bodies, the sense of rhythm they bring to the most egregiously banal line - all have a certain fascination. These guys were so good for so long they could rest of their laurels until the cows come home. Think of Righteous Kill as one more moo.
Righteous Kill, Eastgate, Point, Star, Sundance