Movie News & Reviews

'Righteous Kill' dies at the finish

I've discovered yet another occupation hazard in the high-stress,high-stakes, hos-and-Lear-jets lifestyle of the professional guy whosits in a theater for a couple hours a week and then tells everyoneelse what that experience was like. (This is how I think of myself. Ifinish, on average, two thoughts a day.)

I already got shoes so pop-sticky I can stand on your ceiling andwatch you sleep. (What up, Eileen. You should check with your doctorabout that deviated septum.) I already have to field questions from myfriends and family about what they should see -- questions I have toanswer for free! And you know what's really flicking me in thenose right now? I'm vaguely familiar with like everyone who's made amajor movie in the last two years!

So what? So there I am a few weeks back, watching a trailer forRighteous Kill where it says it's directed by Jon Avnet, andI'm thinking "Hey, I've heard of that guy, he must be pretty good."And it turns out I am as wrong as your dad was about the correct wayto raise you, because the place I'd heard of Avnet, the last movie hedirected, was 88 Minutes, a thriller so ridiculous its creatorsshould have gotten the Hollywood version of in-school suspension untilat least 2010.

How's Avnet's latest? Well, it's got Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, soit can't be all bad. Pacino's a straight-laced cop; De Niro is hisexplosive partner. After a child-killer gets off free, De Niro, unableto watch the justice system fail any longer, starts going vigilante,killing thugs in the street and making it look like the work of apoem-writing serial killer.

Only the details don't add up. The cops on the case decide it must bea police officer committing the murders. Detective John Leguizamo, combing outthe connections to all the victims, starts to suspect one of the menhe's working with to solve the killings -- De Niro -- might be the veryman pulling the trigger.

Let me put this as clearly as I possibly can: Righteous Kill isa fleetingly good movie trying hard to be a great movie and crippledby the ending of an awful movie.

It's a movie in a hurry. Deploying the same montage-like editing thatmade Scorsese's The Departed one of the most propulsive moviesof all time, Avnet rams right into the story and trusts us to keep upwith the constant cuts.

Done right, it's an incredible technique -- you get all kinds ofinformation across in minimal time -- but keeping it under control islike steering a brakeless car with your feet while someone gives you awet willy in both ears: you need to be a cinematic Shaolin master tomaintain concentration or it's off into the ditch with you and all theother poor bastards along for the ride.

If Avnet doesn't crash, he spends a lot of time off on a roughshoulder. Hard to tell how much is him and how much is writer RussellGewirtz, who finds time for fun tough-guy banter and a scattering offunny lines but doesn't provide the longer, character-heavy scenesthat keep us grounded as the story bounds along. The result issomething choppy and disconnected, ambitious and sometimes successful,glimpses of a talent that isn't quite there.

Actually, you know what, there is a big damn crash in RighteousKill, and that's the ending. It's a 12-car pileup wherethey're still finding lost limbs three days later and on scene theparamedics are staging an impromptu contest as to who can barf themost surprising color.

Heaven forbid I spoil what's already rotten, but let's just say thefinale is manipulative, nonsensical and dissatisfying. It may haveworked if we had any true sense of who the characters involved are.Without that, what's meant to be a shocker carries no meaning at all.

Which is really a bummer, because Righteous Kill has the cast,dialogue, and style to have been interesting, if nothing else. Whenyou shoot for the cheap thrill, you often hit even lower than you wereaiming.

Grade: C

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