"Righteous Kill" involves vigilante justice. Several unsavory citizens die in this R-rated opus. A serial killer guns down a black drug dealer (Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson), a white rapist (Terry Serpico), a child killer (Frank John Hughes), a pedophile Catholic priest (Malachy McCourt) , a pimp, and a Russian wrestler (Oleg Taktarov) in cold-blood. The same killer leaves a poem on a card at each homicide. Talk about poetic justice! Homicide Detectives Thomas Cowan (Robert De Niro) and David Fisk (Al Pacino) have been partners for 30 years in the New York Police Department. An Internal Affairs investigator comments that Cowan & Fisk are closer than Lennon & McCartney. These two profane, sharp-shooting, tough-talking veterans have witnessed the seamy side of life and eventually it affects their mindset. Cowan and Fisk had to stand by helplessly while the courts cleared a child killer from a crime that he committed. A self-righteous Cowan plants evidence that convicts the child killer of another crime to put him behind bars. Cowan behaves like "Dirty Harry" and his partner Fisk describes him aptly as "a pit-bull on crack." Initially, Cowan and Fisk have no luck catching the serial killer and Detectives Simon Perez (John Leguizamo of "The Rock") and Ted Riley (Donnie Wahlberg of "Saw 2") join their investigation when one of their cases coincides with our heroes. Cowan and Perez hate each other because they have been bedding down a nymphomaniacal Crime Scene forensics expert, Karen Corelli (Carla Gugino of "American Gangster"), who loves rough sex. No matter what they do to solve the case, they cannot crack it, until Fisk suggests that the killer is a cop. Cowan suspects a disgruntled cop busted off the force has the motive. Meanwhile, the feud between Perez and Cowan fuels Perez's belief that Cowan is the murderer. Cowan admits he knew the priest and Lieutenant Hingis (a shrunken looking Brian Dennehy of "Silverado") puts him on a desk and allows the younger detectives to engineer a sting that will expose Cowan. Cowan's partner Fisk laughs in Hingis' face as well at Perez and Fisk.
Things begin to fall into place when one victim, the Russian, survives the killer's three bullets and the N.Y.P.D. guards his hospital room. The best mysteries give audiences the chance to figure them out. "Righteous Kill" deprives us crucial background material that would have made it far easier to fathom the killer's identity. Instead, Gewirtz and Avnet treat us to scenes where our heroes rarely get into any dangerous predicaments. Avnet stages a clumsy shoot out in an African-American nightspot, but every time somebody dies in "Righteous Kill" the crime is shown from the killer's perspective. Repeatedly, what you don't see and what you're not told about the protagonists keeps you in the dark. For example, we know De Niro and Pacino's characters only by their nicknames. The filmmakers refuse to establish the identities of either De Niro or Pacino from the start. The criminal investigation takes weird turns and red herrings—things designed to distract us—appear everywhere. Actually, the best clue to the killer's identity is broached early in the action, but you won't pay any attention to it because it seems to have little relevance.
Television series like CBS-TV's three "C.S.I." shows make this big-budget Hollywood whodunit look sophomoric. At one point, Lt. Hingis asks our heroes if they want to retire because they aren't making any headway. Neither Cowan nor Fisk are prepared to back down from this challenge, even if it means disaster for them. In that moment, De Niro and Pacino behave like 'Grumpy Old Cops' out to solve one last crime. Watching "Righteous Kill" will give you a bad case of the N.Y.P.D. Blues.