18 September, 2008

Movie Review: Righteous Kill (2008)

There's a scene in Throw Momma From the Train, a largely forgotten but very enjoyable comedy remake of Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, where Billy Crystal's character, a writing workshop professor, gives some harsh criticism to Danny Devito, an aspiring mystery writer. See, Billy says, the problem with your three-page story is that it has two characters, and one of those characters gets murdered on the first page. So where's the mystery when there's only one character other than the murder victim?

Righteous Kill begins with Robert DeNiro's "Turk" confessing to being a murderous vigilante, having killed over a dozen pimps, drug dealers, and pedophile priests (because the only sin a priest is capable of committing is gay, pedophiliac rape, of course).

We then proceed to meet a ragtag cast of completely forgettable characters.... John Leguizamo's Officer Somethingorother, Brian Dennehy's Lieutenant Hardasscaricature, Carla Gugino's sexy someone, 50 Cent's hoodlum who does bad things. And, of course, Al Pacino's "Rooster," Turk's shady cohort in crimesolving, with whom he swaps numerous poorly scripted witticisms that almost approach something of liveliness. He's the only remotely rounded other character in this whole film, about a moralistic vigilante who executes criminals who have escaped justice and then leaves handwritten, miserable attempts at poetry on their corpses (or sometimes, for some reason, inside their corpses, as in the instance where he inserts the piece of paper into the gay priest's asshole because... well, I don't know, I guess because inserting a small piece of paper into a gay man's asshole is more offensive to the dead, gay man than it is to whoever has to touch the dead, gay man's asshole (by this point probably covered in shit since murder victims supposedly shit themselves upon death)).

So here's the setup. 1.) This is a pop culture crime mystery, so in this day and age you know there has to be some twist at the end. 2.) Turk is confessing to all the crimes in the opening scene, which means that can't possibly be all true since there has to be a surprise revelation at some point. 3.) It becomes evident very early to both the audience and the characters that the killer is probably a police officer. 4.) There's only one other character (Rooster) who is even remotely interesting, who has any shred of history or motivation or emotion.

So who do you think the killer is?

Is it Carla Gugino, whoever the hell she is? If it turns out that she's the killer, and they slap on some explanation as to why at the very end, then who really gives a damn? Nobody cares; the killer might as well be a complete stranger, like in the atrocious The Bone Collector with Denzel Washington, when it turns out that the killer was some bit player at the very beginning who doesn't really say or do anything, who is completely forgettable, and whom we know nothing about until the very end. (I remember watching this movie with my aunt and then having to rewind the tape to the beginning to find the killer's trivial scene, since neither of us could remember anything about it.)

So yeah, of course it's Rooster, and Turk's confession at the beginning was a deceptive bit of plot trickery that serves no purpose other than to fool the audience. See, Turk was always a good cop with high morals and Rooster always respected him until one day Turk's actions became a little less than stellar and Rooster, unable to live in a world with shades of gray (because apparently he hadn't by that point encountered hundreds of people who were less than ideal... girlfriends and parents and teachers and so forth... apparently it wasn't until his admirable coworker did something complex that this police officer's Manichean world view became shattered), decided to throw all principles out the window and become a serial killer. Sure, that makes sense.

In the end, these two overaged, slightly effeminate detectives prance around, fire bullets at each other, throw up ham fists, and masturbate each other's tear ducts. It's a bizarre bromance that reeks of artificiality, attempting profound complexities but with no humanity, subtlety, wit, or insight to back up such attempts. It's not even campy enough to be fun. On a scale of negative ten to ten, with ten being a masterpiece and negative ten being so, so bad it's actually very good (like Troll 2), this is a flat zero.

I don't know what's become of the careers of Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, but this disgusting "mystery" by Jon Avnet (who also directed the even more terrible but more enjoyable 88 Minutes, also starring Al Pacino, earlier this year) is an obvious lowpoint.

Righteous Kill (2008)
d: Jon Avnet w: Russell Gewirtz
(Robert De Niro, Al Pacino)

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