Righteous Kill

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I don’t like to toot my own horn — I prefer to have your mom toot it for me — but I guessed who the bad guy was in “Righteous Kill” based solely on the trailer. The trailer, people. It shouldn’t be this easy. The film has exactly one clever idea that it whips out as a twist late in the game; the rest is all generic cop-movie filler.

It’s vigorous filler, though, enacted by those lovable old hams Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, co-starring together for the very first time. (They both appeared in “Heat,” but shared only a few minutes of screen time.) They play New York City police detectives, of course, and their blustery lieutenant is played by a growling Brian Dennehy, with John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg as another pair of cops, and the beautiful Carla Gugino as a crime scene investigator, and you almost think, hey, what’s not to like here? This could be dumb fun.

And it is, more or less — dumb, certainly, and if not “fun,” exactly, then at least unlikely to annoy you. That should be the blurb: “This film will not annoy you!” As a friend of mine pointed out, if it weren’t for the presence of De Niro and Pacino, this would be just another generic straight-to-DVD police drama. It would probably star Tim Daly and Stephen Baldwin.

De Niro and Pacino work like the old friends they are, giving their cops — nicknamed Turk and Rooster, respectively — an easy, glib rapport. The two are investigating a serial killer who targets lowlifes (pimps, rapists, etc.) and always leaves behind a four-line poem explaining why the victims had to die. Rooster and the detectives played by Leguizamo and Wahlberg think the killer is a rogue cop, while Turk seems offended by the idea.

The director, Jon Avnet, who made the lame Pacino thriller “88 Minutes,” is working from a screenplay by Russell Gewirtz (“Inside Man”), and both writer and director make some key mistakes. The film begins with the De Niro character speaking to the camera, apparently in a courtroom or interrogation room or something, and confessing to all the murders. Well, obviously there’s going to be more to it than that. If he’s confessing in the first moments of the film, that means he’s probably NOT the killer.

Throughout the film, there are snippets of the killer attacking his victims, always shot in such a way that we can’t see the murderer’s face or even identify his or her gender. This usually means that the killer is someone we know — and since there are only about six characters in the movie (and one of them is Turk, who we know probably didn’t do it), it becomes fairly simple to guess.

Like I said, I knew who the killer was. What I did not know was how, exactly, it would all pan out, and why Turk was making that confession, and where that confession would fit chronologically. I give Gewirtz credit for coming up with an ingenious solution to all that.

The credit stops there, though. This is a standard-issue cop thriller, virtually indistinguishable from those you see late at night on the USA Network except for the scenery-chewing performances by our old pals Pacino and De Niro. Their working together is historic; the film itself, not so much.

C (1 hr., 41 min.; R, pervasive harsh profanity, some strong sexuality, a lot of shooting violence.)

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