Review: Stand Up Guys
PLOT: After serving twenty-eight years for refusing to give up one of his close criminal associates, Val is released from prison, anxious to go back to his old ways with two old friends. His newfound freedom could be short-lived, however, as an old nemesis is still holding a serious grudge and aims to kill him before he's even spent 24 hours on the outside.
REVIEW: STAND UP GUYS is a very slight piece of entertainment that benefits immensely from its cast of reliable character actors. Vets like Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin are given roles that are tailor-made for them; parts that they could perform in their sleep. The film coasts along on the goodwill these actors bring and ends up being adequate, but there's no question that without these legendary faces it would be a completely routine, even mundane, exercise.
At the center of the film are Al Pacino and Christopher Walken, who shockingly have never shared the screen until now. With their faces grizzled by experience, Pacino and Walken are convincing as a couple of past-their-prime crooks who're tired of the business but can't change their stripes. Pacino plays an excitable con named Val, released from prison almost three decades after he took the fall for a neighborhood kingpin named Claphands (Mark Margolis, another ancient character actor) and kept his mouth shut. However, the gesture isn't much appreciated, since Claphands' son died accidentally during the crime for which Val took the rap. The boss has waited very patiently for this day to come, and Val suspects that his time is limited as soon as he steps outside of the prison's walls.
There to meet him is his former associate, Doc, played by Walken as a man who sounds and acts a lot like Christopher Walken. Not unlike watching Pacino play a grouchy one-time badass, seeing Walken breeze through a role that requires him to be stone-faced and quirky is as familiar as the sun rising every morning. The two characters fall into old habits quickly, as Val is eager to get f*cked up (he'll snort anything you put in front of him) and get laid, but the shadow of his former boss' impending revenge looms over the good times. What's more, Val correctly assumes that his old buddy Doc is the one who has been tasked with performing the hit; as the two get into various shenanigans over the course of the night, it's all building to whether or not Doc will carry out the job.
STAND UP GUYS, like its actors/characters, moves at a leisurely pace; it doesn't have much of a plot, instead a series of situations Val and Doc find themselves in, like breaking another former partner (Alan Arkin) out of an old-age home and taking him for a ride in a souped up sports car. The jokes run along a very predictable course: Val takes way too many viagra pills at one point in order to score with a hooker, and he ends up with an erection he can't get rid of (it's the sort of dumb gag you'd expect to find in a Farrelly Brothers movie), the old gents can't really figure out how these newfangled cars run (you only need to push a button?!) and generally act as if they've been awakened after 30 years of cryogenic sleep. There is one funny bit at a brothel, where it's implied that Arkin is an incredibly gifted man in the sack, but even the best jokes are fairly uninspired.
There's of course a healthy amount of sentimentality in the film, with themes of friendship, loyalty and respect for your elders consistently at the forefront. (It's probably not spoiling anything to say that these old-timers are able to knock back any of their younger counterparts each and every time. ) The movie avoids getting sappy, however, which is refreshing; the film's director, Fisher Stevens, could have tugged at a few more heartstrings, but wisely avoids that mistake, while a more Hollywood approach would have been a real eye-roller. The guys in this movie aren't touchy-feely, they're older versions of pretty bad dudes, and they've stayed true to their crooked roots even now that they're senior citizens.
Unfortunately, the slightness of the material and the sense that the cast is more or less slumming it keeps STAND UP GUYS from making a significant impact. There isn't much suspense built as far as whether or not Doc will eliminate his longtime pal, and their adventures throughout the night are minor diversions. Arkin actually seems to be having the most fun, while Pacino and Walken barely lift a finger to infuse their elderly crooks with facets that aren't already ingrained in their being. What these renowned thesps needed was a script with a little more punch and imagination; as it is, it's little more than a weary old story tale propped up by its cast.