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De Niro, Pacino get an offer they can't refuse

  • Story Highlights
  • Al Pacino, Robert De Niro co-starring in "Righteous Kill"
  • Two actors have co-starred in movies, but rarely shared scenes
  • Some have questioned whether the film is worthy of their talents
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By Stephanie Busari
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- "This is an event in world history," is how Hollywood producer Avi Lerner hyperbolically proclaimed the news that Robert De Niro and Al Pacino were to star in his new film.

De Niro and Al Pacino in a scene from their new movie

De Niro and Al Pacino in a scene from their new movie "Righteous Kill," out this fall.

Lerner can, perhaps, be forgiven for getting a little carried away.

After all, it's not every day these two Hollywood greats appear together on screen.

Lerner is fully aware that by getting De Niro and Pacino to pair up in his latest venture "Righteous Kill," he has hit movie paydirt.

"They were in two scenes in 'Heat.' In this movie, they are in the whole thing together," he tells Variety magazine.

The pairing of heavyweight actors Pacino and Tribeca film festival founder De Niro is something which has tantalized film fans since their separate scenes in "The Godfather Part II" -- 34 years ago.

With 115 films and three Oscars between them, the two stars first acted together in the 1995 thriller "Heat," albeit very briefly in two unrehearsed scenes.

So "Righteous Kill" is something of a coup for Hollywood director and producer Jon Avnet, who made 1996's "Up Close and Personal" and 1991's "Fried Green Tomatoes."

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The longtime friends will star as two veteran New York City detectives on the hunt for a vigilante who may be one of their own. It is prime De Niro/Pacino territory, as Lerner acknowledges in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times.

He says: "They're playing New York City detectives; they are as New York as it gets. De Niro and Pacino the way you want to see them."

"They're both very opaque," he adds. "You don't know whether they're going to kiss someone or kill them. And that suspense is what makes their performances so intense in the moment."

"Righteous Kill" is a remake of a hit French thriller, "36 Quai des Orfèvres" -- the address of the French CID in Paris -- which also saw the pairing of Gallic cinema kings Gerard Depardieu and Daniel Auteuil.

De Niro, 67, said the film, to be released in September, came about because of their longstanding friendship and a desire to work on a longer project together.

"We are old friends, and he is a terrific person and great to work with and that was it you know, it was great," he told CNN's "The Screening Room" at the opening of the Tribeca film festival in New York.

"Because the other movie that we did, we had one great scene. I loved the scene we had where we meet in the restaurant and then the end of the movie.

"And 'Godfather' we were in the same movie but two different time periods, so we are in a movie now where we actually work a lot together."

Pacino, who recently turned 68, says their friendship enhances the acting experience.

"I love Bob, so it's fun," he told Entertainment Weekly. "I've known him since I was a little boy. Bob wisely didn't want to rehearse our first scene together, on 'Heat.' And I'm glad he didn't. There's a comfort level that's very important.

"You can rehearse till the cows come home but that comfort level is what it's about."

Although the prospect of seeing Hollywood icons such as De Niro and Pacino on screen is one to savor for many fans, some have questioned whether this new film will be anything to write home about, based on the quality of their recent output.

The two acting legends have come under fire for making questionable "payday" movie choices like Pacino's critically panned "88 Minutes" -- also produced by Lerner and directed by Avnet.

Reviews for De Niro in films like "Analyze That," "Hide and Seek" and "Godsend" have been similarly scathing.

Some argue, perhaps unfairly, that their body of work has become so polluted by poor choices, that many have forgotten what made them so great in the first place.

Perhaps this is what prompted long time collaborator Francis Ford Coppola, who directed Pacino and De Niro in "The Godfather" trilogy, to accuse them, along with Jack Nicholson, of lacking ambition and passion.

Coppola was quoted in GQ magazine last year as saying: "I don't feel that kind of passion to do a role and be great coming from those guys, because if it was there, they would do it! I mean, they're all in a position to do it."

Coppola later told reporters during the Rome Film Festival that the comments were "obviously bent out of shape" by the magazine.

"I was astonished because it wasn't true," he said. "I have nothing but respect and admiration for the actors. These are the three greatest actors in the world today, and they are my friends."

However, his supposed views obviously struck a chord with others. In March, De Niro came top in a poll by the online edition of Entertainment Weekly to find "the most shameless pay check role." He won for agreeing to play Fearless Leader in The Adventures Of Rocky and Bulwinkle in 2000.

While Los Angeles Times, film critic Patrick Goldstein accused the pair of "becoming parodies of themselves, making payday movies that are hollow echoes of the electrically charged work they did on such films as 'Serpico,' 'Dog Day Afternoon,' 'Mean Streets' and 'Taxi Driver.' "

He added: "If anyone has made more movies for the money than Pacino, it would be De Niro, who has largely abandoned serious dramatic work for a spate of forgettable horror and crime thrillers."

Between them Pacino and De Niro have starred in some of best films ever made, and as they approach their 70s, it would be fair to say they have earned the right to slum it a little.

And as Ryan Gilbey of the Guardian newspaper puts it: "Don't we all find the armchair that bit comfier as the years go by?

"Why should De Niro be any different just because he made his name as one of the most visceral and searching of screen performers?" E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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