Unlike Heat, there is no clash of the titans in Righteous Kill, a twisty, turny and ultimately silly thriller from Inside Man's Russell Gewirtz. The actors play veteran NYPD cops and longtime partners - who may be criminals.
To the brass in the precinct, Turk (De Niro) and Rooster (Pacino) are the Righteous Brothers, go-to guys for uncrackable cases. Like the one of an apparent serial killer, a vigilante targeting accused pedophiles who got exonerated for lack of evidence. Because the murderer leaves doggerel at the murder site, he is dubbed "the poetry killer."
But to the young turks in the department, the old turks are "like Lennon and McCartney," a team so tight that there must be some friction. Something's eating Turk, a man of action. Something's too easy about Rooster, a man of talk.
In director Jon Avnet's frenetically edited closeups, Turk goes about his business. He outhustles a drug kingpin named Spider (50 Cent in a small but memorable role). He enjoys a rough quickie with crime-scene investigator Karen (Carla Gugino, criminally beautiful - and criminally underutilized). Essentially, Rooster's role is to crow and cast suspicion on his partner.
For most moviegoers, the film's chief appeal is as a showcase for De Niro's minimalist behavior and Pacino's maximalist performance.
De Niro, whose creased face increasingly resembles that of a spud with a very large mole, recedes so deeply into Turk's troubled character that he fails to engage the audience. For this broadly directed entertainment, his acting is admirably subtle, perhaps too much so.
Pacino, whose black olive eyes dance above a satanic smile, is De Niro's opposite, his dervish energy enlivening this frequently tedious affair. While De Niro telegraphs his mood, Pacino, that unapologetic showman, semaphores it. His performance should come with the caption: It's Easter. Enjoy the ham.
Righteous Kill ** (out of four stars)
Directed by Jon Avnet. With Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Carla Gugino, Brian Dennehy and John Leguizamo.
Running time: 1 hour, 40 mins.
Parent's guide: R (violence, sexuality, drugs, profanity)
Playing at: area theaters
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey
at 215-854-5402 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog, Flickgrrl, at http://www.philly.com/philly/