RIGHTEOUS KILL (Jon Avnet). 100 minutes. Opens Friday (September 12). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: N
To understand how totally and thor-oughly Righteous Kill fails, it's necessary to reach back to 1995 and Michael Mann's Heat, which was the last time Robert De Niro and Al Pacino appeared in the same film.
When Heat opened, it was an event, pairing two of the most powerful American actors of the 1970s as equals, and rivals, on either side of the law. Pacino played a cop saddled with personal issues, De Niro a bank robber whose crisp professionalism carried over to his off-duty life. They came face to face only twice in Mann's bristling three-hour crime drama, but that served to further enhance the tension.
Righteous Kill is not Heat. It's a completely different picture. Set in New York, it's a slow-burning, modest-budgeted drama with Pacino and De Niro playing NYPD lifers linked to a string of vigilante murders. (How linked? The movie opens with De Niro confessing to the crimes.)
But Jon Avnet's weak-ass cop throw-back fails on so many other levels that you could knock it for not even being up to the level of the director's previous film, 88 Minutes. It's a sloppy, deeply stupid movie that substitutes clichés for character, has no idea what to do with its female characters (though Carla Gugino is, as always, a very good sport) and hangs its entire payoff on a twist so inane that it presumes the audience has already forgotten stuff we were shown an hour and a half earlier.
To put it another way, Heat was a goddamn masterpiece. Righteous Kill is the kind of movie where an insert shot of a wristwatch is held long enough for us to notice that the second hand isn't moving. Norman Wilner