<em>Righteous Kill</em> stars Robert De Niro (Turk) and Al Pacino (Rooster) as N.Y. detectives.

Two of America’s most famous actors come together for a talky, muffled thud of a film. In contrast to other dud legion of cinema superhero teamings like The Score (where De Niro co-starred with Brando and Ed Norton), or Ocean’s Thirteen (where Pacino played with every famous actor except De Niro) this isn’t really that stupid. But it’s difficult to imagine what possessed these alleged legends to cohabitate a script this ordinary by the director of last year’s fabulously bad 88 Minutes-and Pacino was in that.

Like a trip to the dentist, the worst part’s over in the first 10 minutes. During the credits we watch these giants flex their acting muscles in each other’s company as if they were rehearsing for a Redford/Newman camaraderie. (Remember, they never really acted together-in both Heat and Godfather II they were parallel characters.) Right off the bat, however, director Jon Avnet keeps diluting his pizzazz with weirdly cliched imagery. First, they’re hipsters who can discuss popular culture like Underdog cartoons with arch irony. Then we cut dramatically to a shot of De Niro coaching a girl’s softball team. (This is one of the most self-consciously edited films I’ve ever seen.) And then there’s Butch Cassidy-esque faked rape scenes, followed by grimy black and white shots of De Niro as Officer Turk confessing to a string of murders. Of course, we’re meant to parse all these disparate mysteries. But the effect is more frustrating than intriguing and the ambiguity lasts too long to seem trustworthy.

Things do improve and there is a decent twist. To its infinite credit, the movie gives good enigmatic screen time to Carla Gugino, a star who can play soccer mom and tough gal sex buddy. But the movie never seems worthy of its investment in its own star power. Are we wrong to expect that even alone, neither of these screen giants would want to be in a gritty cop movie that has nothing to say? They get some laughs, but for men who began life in the greatest crime melodrama ever made, it’s not such a righteous surprise ending.


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