It’s been almost two whole redeeming years since Jon Avnet’s icon-defiling sham of a cop thriller was released, and the incredulity still hasn’t worn off. Righteous Kill or, as Peter Travers aptly baptised it, The Al and Bob Show is certainly a historic landmark for cinema – if that landmark were erected on the peak of a landfill site. When this glorified film was initially put out for show I was intrigued as to what the unprecedented pairing of cinema’s two most revered tough guys (excluding Clint Eastwood, who has profited astoundingly from his image and, as far as I can tell, not allowed it to be sullied) would provide. However, since seeing it just recently I am sadly obligated to say that I wish I’d never been excited by the prospect.
Any self-respecting cinema-goer or theatrical pundit would tell you that this film saw the desecration of two divine screen entities – thankfully immortalisation preceded their participation in this Pandora’s box of banalities and spared them the full blows of retaliation. Robert De Niro first had me under visual arrest when I watched him epitomise the visceral character of the 20th Century mafia member, a role in film that Al Pacino also garnered worthy attention for. As far as criminal representation goes these guys have got all the buttons on the jacket popped into place, ready to tear the audience a new one; or at least they did, back when chronic cussing and gun-wielding was still plausible for the two aged antagonists, which I believe was Ronin for Bob and Heat for Al.
Let’s face it, this film was all about these two cinema supremos and the enigmatic, angst-ridden personalities that they engineered by mind and by hand over careers spanning mind-blowing decades. Staggering reputations aside, the fact that their images in those films they made have been so influential as to still maintain a prominent cultural marker for their subjects is the closest thing to natural preservation you’ll be likely to find. I can’t even begin to contemplate how many times a housemate of mine has quoted direct from Pacino’s Tourette-suffering Tony Montana; “all I have in this world is my balls and my word, and I don’t break ‘em for no one, you understand?” And let’s not forget the perpetual “you talkin’ to me?” that sealed De Niro’s fate as a formidable masculine force of America.
So where was the uncertainty of stability in Al and the robustness of poise in Bob in Righteous Kill? I’ll tell you where: back where they rightly left it in the last century. If you think about it, this comic venture was a laughable flop even before filming began. Any able-minded physician could’ve told these icons that jumping down open shafts and banging voluptuous ‘broads’ half their age in the space of 101 minutes are activities their weathered bodies couldn’t manage. What struck me as mildly amusing was how the scriptwriter (Russell Gewirtz) attempted to compensate for feeble dialogue by convincing De Niro to say f*** like his mouth was stuck on Montana mode – in all probability De Niro was assumedly improvising after realising how lax this failure-stained thriller really was.
Nevertheless, because I hold these guys so close to my Italian-American-loving heart and have the profoundest respect for their work, I’ll not say another word that could potentially imply otherwise. What must be mentioned for the sake of repentance is the systematic genre incompetence of the writer and director (Jon Avnet) team, who couldn’t have made more of a half-hearted effort at ticking off the checklist for cop thriller if they attempted a remake of Heat using the old cast of Police Academy – DON’T GET ANY IDEAS! Perhaps the most shocking ineptitude to be discovered in this dysfunctional parody of policing is the protracted conclusion that you’re beaten to death by at the end. While all the while you know it’s Pacino’s static-haired ‘Rooster’ (why the hell is he called that? Is it the cockerel excuse for hair?) who is the vigilante serial killer (De Niro’s character explains this quite clearly at the beginning), the masterminds of this incontinent plot somehow thought they had the audience fooled into thinking it was De Niro all along.
Okay, I’ll confess to being completely nonplussed in regards to who the real villain was; however, I have a valid reason for this. If this film had been logically composed in the way a crime/cop thriller should be, it would have either neglected to reveal from the beginning who the killer was or it would have played the generic game of guess who by tagging the whole cast as probable suspects in the mystery. Not only did it fail to exercise either option, but it went so far away from actually entertaining the notion of convention that it created a whole new genre of film: cock-up cop comedy. CCC may have happened before – anyone remember the Robocop sequels? – but not on a scale as overbalanced as this. We were allowed to hope it would promise some benefit, but hope is all we got. Even now I’m still hoping that the impression this true disaster movie has left on me will fade, but again I’m sceptical. What I now pursue hopefully is the belief that, before their careers come to a close, two out of the three iron men of animal acting will deliver performances that we can nod to like we do Godfather and Deer Hunter.
One thing I almost left unsaid, which would be wholly ‘unrighteous’ of me if I did, is the single greatest moment in this movie: Curtis Jackson aka ’50 Cent’ getting ‘capped’ and blown forwards through a window. Just like in House of Wax when Paris Hilton’s mock-performance was deservedly speared through the skull, so was 50 Cent’s incomprehensible acting brought to a halt by none other than Al Pacino and a 9mm. If I take away anything that vaguely equates to a lesson from this film, it is that I now have ammunition to use in what might be the most pressing quandary of all-time: Pacino or De Niro? Pacino blew a hole in commercial hip-hop’s membrane. De Niro boned Carla Gugino at 64 years of age. Who wins? I’ll tell you who doesn’t: 50 Cent.