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Self Righteous: DeNiro and Pacino take on water at every turn 

Even the dynamic duo can't save this disaster. Expectations abound for a movie co-starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Their only recent movie together, Heat, although considered brilliant by most observers, had just one scene in which they were on screen together. In their new film Righteous Kill, they are Siamese twins, cop buddies, together in virtually every scene.

And let's be honest, these two can carry a mediocre film on their collective backs. They both have careers which need no buoying up, and if any two actors working today could be called living legends, it's probably these two.

What's not derivative these days in a cop movie? We start with the killings of people whom the world would not miss: child rapists, Russian mobsters, a seedy collection of low lives whose deaths probably serve to improve the lives of others in New York.

Rooster (Pacino) and Bob (De Niro) are on the case. They are senior homicide detectives, given a lot of latitude, and considered by their boss Lt. Hingis (Brian Dennehy) the "A" team. Little by little, a pair of junior varsity detectives begin to sniff out something we have known since the film's beginning. The serial killing of these bad guys is an in-house job designed to circumvent the cumbersome and unfair legal system.

So we're on to the killer's identity, or so we think, from the beginning. And as stories go, this one feels like reasonably good television. But compared with a movie like Michael Clayton, which I watched again over the weekend and is such a tight, well conceived and executed invention, this screenplay is taking on water every turn.

We expect zinger laden dialogue watching an episode of "House," but here I expected better. And since coming off 88 Minutes, considered by many Pacino's low water mark career wise, I for one thought this would signal an ascendant move. But director Jon Avnet, alas, directed 88 Minutes as well.

The scenes tumble together into a messy mélange of toothy Pacino smiles, very like his role in Oceans 13, and the finely furrowed face of Robert De Niro. It was as if someone handed them a script saying in effect, this isn't very good so do your best to improve on it with closeups and the non verbals.

There are gritty and authentic feeling settings within the hard core New York City homicide world. The killer kills at close range, always seeming to know the victim; there is never a struggle, and he leaves a four line poem to explain the vigilante justice to English majors on the police force.

We can sense we are being set up for a surprise. As moviegoers I think we all have gotten this undeniable pituitary jolt when we feel we know everything way too early in the movie. So subconsciously we start running the scenarios for alternative endings. If you didn't come up with the one, which awaits us at the end of the movie, shame on you. It's as subtle as leaving a picture of a bag of popcorn at the drive-in movie hoping you'll visit the concession stand.

But as a woman said to me as we were leaving the theater, "Hey it was TV, but it was also De Niro and Pacino."

And that is worth something, but in this case not as much as I was hoping for.

Righteous Kill
Starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino. Directed by Jon Avnet. Rated R.

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