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18th Apr 2023

15 years ago today marked the beginning of the end for our acting heroes

Rory Cashin

Al Pacino

Turns out even the best of the best aren’t safe from the worst of the worst.

Very few actors get to the top, and even fewer stay on top for as long as Al Pacino did. The Godfather, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Scarface, Glengarry Glen Ross, Scent of a Woman, Carlito’s Way, Heat, Donnie Brasco, The Devil’s Advocate, The Insider, Any Given Sunday, Insomnia… just to name some of biggest attention grabbers from the first three decades of his career.

Which is not to say there weren’t some missteps along the way, with Dick Tracy, S1m0ne and (ugh) Gigli all immediately coming to mind, but you can practically pinpoint the moment in Al Pacino’s career when it flipped from mostly good to mostly bad, and that was 18 April 2008, with the release of 88 Minutes.

We should’ve known something was wrong when the movie was released in Israel – and for some reason, just Israel – 14 months earlier. We also should’ve known something was wrong when we clocked that the movie was actually completed by the end of 2015. That is a sure sign that the folks in charge of making a profit had no idea what to do with Al Pacino’s latest outing.

Co-starring Alicia Witt, Leelee Sobieski, William Forsythe, Deborah Kara Unger and Neal McDonough, it sees Pacino playing a forensic psychiatrist. On the eve of the execution of a serial killer he helped get put in jail, one of his students is murdered in the exact way the killer committed the crime. Oh, and Pacino’s character is told he has 88 minutes to live before he becomes their next victim.

From the writer of Timecop 2 and Hollow Man 2 (yikes, we didn’t even know these existed) and the producer of famed box office flop Sky Captain & The World Of Tomorrow, you have to wonder what part of this weak megamix of Scream and Se7en was appealing to Al Pacino. Racking up just 5% on Rotten Tomatoes, it did at least give us this iconic review from NBC at the time:

“Given that 88 Minutes actually runs 108 minutes, it’s tempting to make the joke that the movie is 20 minutes too long. In actuality, it’s 108 minutes too long.”

After 88 Minutes, what did we get from Al Pacino? Stand Up Guys (36% on Rotten Tomatoes), Misconduct (7%), Hangman (4%), and absolute crime against cinema, Jack & Jill (3%). The decline was sudden and shocking, but before any of those, and how this also ties into Robert De Niro’s freefall, we got Righteous Kill.

Released in cinemas in September 2008, it sees Al Pacino re-unite with the director of 88 Minutes just five months after that awful serial killer thriller arrived in cinemas, this time taking Robert De Niro along for the ride.

Pacino and De Niro had both previously starred in The Godfather Part II and Heat, so to pick this movie to cap off their trilogy of co-stars is, once again, a little bit shocking. The writer of Righteous Kill hasn’t worked in Hollywood again since this movie came out, while Pacino and De Niro star alongside John Leguizamo, Carla Gugino, Donnie Wahlberg, Brian Dennehy and 50 Cent.

Another serial killer thriller, but with a heavier leaning on action this time around, it has the acting legends as a pair of veteran New York City detectives working the case of serial executions being carried out on criminals who escaped justice. Do the criminals maybe deserve this vigilante justice, the movie asks in a hand-waving, already-bored-of-itself manner. It is slightly better than 88 Minutes – with 18% on Rotten Tomatoes, we really are emphasising the slightly – with the Austin Chronicle putting it best:

“There’s nothing righteous about this tired and tiresome good cop/bad cop NYPD procedural; in fact, it’s pretty much an abomination from the get-go.”

Again, De Niro’s CV before Righteous Kill wasn’t perfect, but the duds didn’t truly start arriving until after this movie: Little Fockers (9% on Rotten Tomatoes), Killer Elite (28%), New Year’s Eve (7%), Red Lights (30%), The Big Wedding (7%), Killing Season (10%), and his own answer to Jack & Jill, the painfully unfunny Dirty Grandpa (10%).

Of course, we know now that Al Pacino and Robert De Niro would eventually reunite again, for Scorsese’s 2019 crime epic The Irishman, and separately we’re happy to report that Pacino (Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, House Of Gucci) and De Niro (Joker, Killers of the Flower Moon) both appear to be on a bit of a comeback.

15 years on, it is plain to see that this one-two punch somehow managed to mark the before/after point in both Al Pacino and Robert De Niro’s almost peerless decisions in roles, and while it is difficult to think that a decade or two from now, Leonardo DiCaprio or Christian Bale will find themselves in gross-out comedies or completely unrecognisable thrillers… we now know it isn’t out of the realms of possibility.

If for some perverse reason you want to check them out, 88 Minutes is available to rent on Google Play and the Sky Store, while Righteous Kill is available to stream on Rakuten TV and Lionsgate+.

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