Sunday, September 14, 2008

Weekend Pursuits, Vol. 2

For as long as I can remember, I've been a huge fan of actors Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino.

I believe I first became aware of DeNiro as a kid, peeking over my father's shoulder in the early 1980s while he was watching a television broadcast of "The Deer Hunter." I've, of course, become obsessed with the guy in the intervening 20+ years, having watched "GoodFellas," "Raging Bull," "The Godfather, Part II," "Mean Streets," "Taxi Driver" and "The King of Comedy," among others, more than just a few times.

A friend of mine questioned my cinematic loyalty to the guy in the mid-'90s, observing that the two-time Oscar winner was seemingly more interested in a paycheck than great acting. Unbowed, I continued to revere the "early" DeNiro, but it became increasingly difficult sitting through dreck like "15 Minutes," "Hide and Seek," "The Fan" and others.

That said, he still is able to summon the gifts of the past and turn in fine performances in films like "Jackie Brown," "Casino," "Cop Land," etc.

Pacino, of course, was Michael Corleone in the "Godfather" films, the desperate bank robber in "Dog Day Afternoon," Tony Montana in "Scarface" and, in what is arguably his finest performance, a principled N.Y.P.D. detective in "Serpico."

His late career involves some excellent work as the victim of undercover cop Joe Pistone (played by Johnny Depp) in the mob drama "Donnie Brasco," as a burned-out detective in Christopher Nolan's remake of "Insomnia," as "60 Minutes" producer Lowell Bergman in Michael Mann's "The Insider," and as the profane real-estate salesman Ricky Roma in "Glengarry Glen Ross."

I try to overlook "The Devil's Advocate," "88 Minutes," "Two for the Money" and others.

After all their years of acting, DeNiro and Pacino finally shared scenes in a movie when Michael Mann became the first filmmaker to cast the two opposite one another in 1995's "Heat." (They appeared separately in "The Godfather, Part II.")

Thirteen years later, they're reunited onscreen in "Righteous Kill," a potboiler crime drama from "Inside Man" writer Russell Gewirtz (credit) and "88 Minutes" director Jon Avnet (debit).

Given my longstanding affection for the two actors, I knew I'd be a less-than-objective observer/critic of the movie. A standard cop drama/thriller with a twist, the film managed to exceed the incredibly low expectations I had based upon what I felt was a fairly weak trailer. DeNiro and Pacino both have the opportunity for some choice one-liners, and the supporting cast (a kinky/deranged Carla Gugino, along with Donnie Wahlberg and John Leguizamo) acquits itself as well as possible. The script is actually interesting, but the direction is poor, and it all ends up a bit of a misfire.

Bottom line: I enjoyed it. Can I recommend anyone else see it in theaters? Yes, for DeNiro and Pacino completists. Otherwise, cable or DVD is fine.

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