Casting can make or break a movie. However, no matter how good the ensemble, if they aren’t given quality material then the talent is wasted. Stand Up Guys stars Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin – all three award-winning thespians. Surprisingly, Pacino and Walken have never had the pleasure of working together in a film. Of late, it seems that Walken is crossing off items on his “acting bucket list” appearing in films alongside the likes of Morgan Freeman and William H. Macy (The Maiden Heist), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (A Late Quartet), et al. As for Alan Arkin, winning a supporting actor award for the comedy Little Miss Sunshine seemingly revitalized his career as his work output is nearly double what he was doing in the 1990s, a decade that saw him cross paths with Al Pacino in Glengarry Glen Ross.
Arkin is the third wheel in a vehicle that is clearly geared for both Pacino and Walken. Audiences who have always wanted to see this duo together on-screen with reap modest rewards. They play off one another well enough, but it seems Walken gets the better of him; Pacino doesn’t have the gravitas he once had. He seems to be playing off some variation of the Scent of a Woman/The Devil’s Advocate combo. As for Walken, he can elevate a movie even if it’s just him giving a signature soliloquy (if you’ve never seen Poolhall Junkies, try to find his “Lions” speech). Last year saw the actor give his best performance in quite a while as a morally conflicted dognapper in Seven Psychopaths.
Walken plays Doc, a con man who has long since retired and gravitated to painting sunrises, watching cable television, and frequenting a nearby restaurant where he chats up one of the waitresses daily. When his partner in crime, Val (Pacino), finishes his 28-year stint behind bars, Doc is there to pick him up. Val is antsy and tells his friend that he’s “ready to party.” So begins one misadventure after another that sees them visit a brothel, then put their old robbing techniques to good use by breaking into a pharmacy so they can boost cholesterol medication and a certain little blue pill.
Stand Up Guys arrives after 2012 had the successful AARP releases The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Hope Springs. Sadly, it’s episodic nature of wild and crazy antics in a 24-hour period in Hangover fashion makes about as much sense of releasing action movies headlined by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. The comedy makes fun of old age but also valorizes it, by having its geezer protagonists show boldness in the face of danger.
Taking the good (seeing Pacino borrow from the Scent of a Woman playbook and share a dance with a young lady) with the bad (seeing the aftereffects of Pacino taking a mouthful of Viagra), Stand Up Guys fails at offering enough genuine moments. Instead we get preposterous scenarios like seeing Pacino and Walken get the last of their crew (Alan Arkin) out of a retirement community only to have a high-speed car chase with the police. Sprinkle in an encounter with a rape victim (who was in the trunk of the car no less) and the desire to right a wrong and it all leads to a conclusion that only works if Val and Doc were Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid reincarnated.
Outside of the opportunity of seeing Al Pacino and Christopher Walken chew scenery together, Stand Up Guys does have some memorable supporting acts, including Lucy Punch as a bespectacled madam, and Addison Timlin as Doc’s favorite waitress for reasons that become clearer in the final act.
Stand Up Guys is a safe comedy in that the AARP crowd won’t be too offended by the actions of the protagonists. They’ll be too busy enjoying Pacino and Walken together on-screen. Even if Pacino is still delivering his lines in the same The Devil’s Advocate cadence that he did back in the early 1990s, at least Walken is able to keep this comedy grounded with his honesty. He helps keep things real even with the story being ripe with cliches.
Director: Fisher Stevens
Writer: Noah Haidle
Notable Cast: Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin, Addison Timlin, Lucy Punch, Juliana Margulies, Vanessa Fertilo