- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2008

When does a “twist” ending become so predictable that it’s not a twist anymore?

“Righteous Kill” does its best to find out.

Sharing the screen for the first time since “Heat,” Al Pacino and Robert De Niro star as a pair of New York City cops, Rooster and Turk. As the movie opens, Turk (Mr. De Niro) is shown on a grainy camera admitting to a series of crimes; his voice-over narration continues throughout, giving us a (redundant and unnecessary) recap of the action on the screen.

This plot device is extremely problematic because the rest of the film focuses on the NYPD’s hunt for a serial killer who is knocking off bad guys; the murderer is making “righteous kills,” if you will. Suspicion soon turns within the department, as Detective Perez and Detective Riley (John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg, respectively) set their sights on Turk. This is a reasonable assumption, we’re lead to believe, because he knew all of the victims.

Only the audience knows it can’t be Turk, as we have seen him “confessing” to the crime at the beginning of the film. What would be the point of a mystery if you already knew the conclusion? This is a relatively common trope in the world of noir - the set-up shamus trying to clear his name before he gets sent to jail for a crime he didn’t commit. But we don’t see Turk doing much of anything to clear his name; instead, all we see is Perez and Riley chasing down a dead end.

When the real killer finally is revealed, I think it’s fair to say that even the dimmest of viewers will have figured out who it is.

With a movie this predictable and stupid, it’s no wonder Mr. De Niro sleepwalks through most of his scenes. He is out of shape, jowly and mumbly. Another couple of performances like this one - clearly turned in for the check - and critics are going to start comparing him to Marlon Brando.

Later Marlon Brando. “Island of Dr. Moreau” Marlon Brando.

It’s a shame, because the rest of the cast does pretty good work with very lame material. Mr. Pacino is as good as he’s been in a decade, possibly two. Gone is the shouting, over-the-top psychopath of “Scent of a Woman,” “Heat” and “The Devil’s Advocate”; Mr. Pacino has toned it down this time and appears to be enjoying himself. His comedic timing with the rest of the cast is perfect.

Mr. Wahlberg turns in a solid performance in a role he knows well, that of the kind-of-quiet-but-not-to-be-messed-with tough guy. Mr. Leguizamo is an edgy presence in the film, comic in a smirky sort of way. Carla Gugino is great as a forensics detective with a kinky side. Even Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson does OK work as a menacing club owner and drug dealer.

The most aggravating thing about “Righteous Kill” is that there’s probably a perfectly acceptable procedural thriller somewhere in the mountain of cliches and stupidity that riddle the film. It might not have been “Chinatown,” but it could have been watchable.

★½

TITLE: “Righteous Kill”

RATED: R for violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and brief drug use

CREDITS: Directed by Jon Avnet, written by Russell Gewirtz

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