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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Hollywood can breathe a collective sigh of relief.
Director Jon Avnet's police procedural "Righteous Kill" not only marks the first real teaming of screen icons Robert De Niro and Al Pacino (in their third film together) but it's also not the wreck some were fearing following this year's calamitous Avnet-Pacino melodrama "88 Minutes."
If it's also not the operatic crime thriller of the previous Bob & Al effort, Michael Mann's "Heat," the new film still gives De Niro a good role, sidekick Pacino an adequate one and looks slick. What seems like a million "Law & Order" episodes may have taken a bit of the luster off this genre, but the star duo should deliver, if not stellar, then OK box office after it opens in theaters on Friday via Overture Films.
In his second feature script, Russell Gewirtz ("Inside Man") sets up a standard NYPD tale of veteran partners on the force, one of whom (De Niro's Turk) is starting to get ideas about avenging innocent victims when the courts get it wrong. His partner, Rooster (a restrained Pacino), is not thrilled about this new direction, but cop loyalty trumps all. One of their prime suspects is nightclub owner Spider (Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson), though he's offscreen for the bulk of the film. More threatening is the younger cop team of Detectives Riley (Donnie Wahlberg) and Perez (John Leguizamo) who increasingly suspect that De Niro may be the notorious Poetry Killer, a serial murderer who leaves crude rhyming couplets with his corpses.
Brian Dennehy has the nothing role of the gruff lieutenant, longtime De Niro pal Barry Primus has even less to do as a police psychiatrist, and Melissa Leo (who gave the female performance of the year to date in "Frozen River"), is wasted in one scene. As forensic crime scene investigator Karen Corelli, and De Niro's girlfriend, Carla Gugino has a lot of screen time (some of it discussing her penchant for "rough sex") but seems too glamorous for the part. MTV's skateboarder Rob Dyrdek ("Rob & Big") has a cameo.
Avnet always has seemed more successful as a producer ("Risky Business," "Men Don't Leave," TV's recent hit miniseries "The Starter Wife," among many others) than as director ("Fried Green Tomatoes," "Up Close & Personal"). Here he delivers an ordinary cop picture boosted by two charismatic superstars but hindered by its dearth of surprises. For once, the frequently moving camera (cinematography by Denis Lenoir) works to keep things lively -- helpful when much of your cast roster is in the AARP range. Other technical credits are fine, which they should be with 13 credited producers.