A film review by Craig J. Koban March 6, 2013


2013, R, 98 mins.

Val: Al Pacino / Doc: Christopher Walken / Hirsch: Alan Arkin / Nina: Julianna Margulies / Claphands: Mark Margolis / Oxana: Katheryn Winnick / Wendy: Lucy Punch

Directed by Fisher Stevens / Written by Noah Haidle.

I shouldn’t be doing this.  Every fiber of my cold, detached, and analytical film critic mind is telling me not to.  

But, damn it, I just going have to go for it.  

Typically, just the inclusion of a trio of iconic and cherished screen performers shouldn't be enough to recommend a film on.  Some films, to be sure, are certainly better – despite their inherent faults – because of their cast.  Yet, there is no denying that – for an all-too-brief 98 minutes – I was utterly transfixed with STAND UP GUYS every time stars Al Pacino and Christopher Walken appeared on screen together, which essentially is a majority of the film.  The fact that they are greeted by the presence of the equally great Allan Arkin later on is just icing on the proverbial cake. 

To be fair, STAND UP GUYS is definitely not grade-A material for these legendary performers.  It’s kind of laughably akin to GRUMPY OLD MEN via GOODFELLAS and there are many instances in the film were it devolves into some truly TV sitcom worthy comedic contrivances that desperately tries to mock the actors’ ever-advancing years.  Yet, it’s not the somewhat prosaic scripting that makes STAND UP GUYS memorable; it’s the simple pleasure of just seeing Pacino, Walken, and Arkin – all incomparably unique and different performers in their own respective right – work off of each other with their trademark precision, timing, and ethereal charm.   These guys taking turns reading me my cable bill on screen would entertain me; the fact that they occupy a fairly perfunctory storyline is essentially forgivable.   They are so good at what they do best here that I basically ignored STAND UP GUYS’ faults. 

Fisher Stevens’ directorial debut focuses on a trio of Baltimore-area wise guys, to be sure, but ones that are approaching the end of their lives.  They still got the mentality of hardened criminals, even if their frail bodies don’t always follow suit.  We are introduced early on to Val (Pacino), a gangster cruising towards 70 that has been in the slammer for 28 years for taking the blame for a crime because (a) he didn't rat on his buddies and colleagues and (b) he's just an all-out “stand-up guy.”  Even though Val took the fall for his friends all those years ago, he apparently harbors no ill will.  At the beginning of the film he is finally released from prison, and is awaited on the outside by his old pal Doc (Walken), who was his BFF when they were at the peak of the criminal ways way back in the 1970’s. 



Both men, alas, are aging geezers.  Val in particular seems a bit miffed by Doc’s rather domesticated lifestyle (he lives in a small and drab apartment, likes to paint sunsets and has a penchant for “cable TV').  They decide to visit their old stomping grounds back in the day, and in particular a few trips to a local brothel (hey, cue the Pacino-overdosing-on-Viagara gags!).  Nonetheless, it's rather quickly deduced (even in the film’s trailers, so this does not constitute a spoiler warning here) that Doc has actually been coerced into whacking Val by 10am the very next morning by their former boss, Claphands (Mark Margolis).  Why?  Val killed the boss’ only son, albeit accidentally, but Claphands (what a name!) still wants him six feet under, and if Doc fails to kill Val, he too will be swimming with the fishes.  You may fondly recall Margolis on the receiving end of a gunshot blast to the head by Pacino all those years ago in SCARFACE.  In STAND UP GUYS the actor is now on the cusp of getting some karma-induced movie revenge. 

Val seems to take the news of his buddy having to kill him all in stride, mostly because he can sense in Val’s eyes that he is deeply saddened by having to do it.  So, realizing that they still have a night together, the old codgers decide to make a night of it, which involves frequent visits to the aforementioned whore house, a couple of trips to a local diner that has a cute and bubbly waitress (Addison Timlin) that seems to have an unexplainable bond with Doc, and, yes, a rendezvous with their old wheelman, Hirsch (Arkin), who is now pathetically eking out a life on oxygen support in a nursing home.  Well, the boys spring him, and that’s where the real fun begins. 

You just have to kind of…I dunno…go with the flow of this film.  Yes, the scenes with Pacino on a hospital gurney sporting a rather massive drug-induced penile salute are pretty telegraphed and forced, not to mention that – for a dude that can barely get up from his old folk’s home chair – Hirsh manages to drive a stolen sports car through the streets (evading cops at one point) with the precision and dexterity of a man 50 years younger.  And…yeah…you just know that the easy-on-the eyes and inquisitive diner waitress is not just a diner waitress to Doc, who seems to spend an abnormal amount of time visiting her.  Lastly, there is not a verbal or visual joke mocking Pacino and Walken’s senior citizen status that is left off the table here. 

Yet…this cast!  Just...wow!  Early scenes with Pacino and Walken have such a sinful level of straightforward economy, mostly because you have two titans of the thespian arts staring at each other, engaging in small talk and passing time.  Pacino brings his reliable level of gravel voiced-murmuring bravado and also engages in a delicate balancing act between over-the-top...Pacino-isms...and lower key and understated gravitas (Pacino, now 72, looks as banged-up as even, which makes him that much more compelling as an actor).  Waken always manages to bring an indescribable level of affectionate creepiness to his roles with his staccato line readings, but here (as he did marvelously in last year’s underrated SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS) he speaks volumes with world weary and downtrodden glances and stoic reactions (his face alone looks like a road map of moral anxiety).  Arkin has a bit more comedic jump in his step, as he usually does when compared to the other actors on screen.  Watching him go from a near comatose, hospital bed-ridden retiree to a prostitute gorging sex machine that letter gets high behind the wheel is an unmitigated hoot.

When guys like him, Pacino and Walken share the screen in STAND UP GUYS, it’s impossible to stray your eyes away.  These are three of the greatest actors of their generation and when their aged and grizzled facades occupy the same silver screen, the film attains a tractor beam-like aura of giddy fascination that lures you in and won’t let go.  You even feel for these saps, even when the script goes in zany directions (like one subplot involving a bound and gagged women in the trunk of the hot rod they steal…don’t ask).  In particular, Walken’s wounded and wistful eyed Doc is the most sympathetic, who’s being placed in a situation to kill the friend that he loves or face even worse personal circumstances for himself and someone else he cares dearly for.   Ultimately and deep down, I kind of know that my head is telling me that STAND UP GUYS is not as good as I’m rating it here.  Yet, the cast here is so delightful, so on top of their game, and so sublimely wonderful together that my heart is overriding my head.  

Take it or leave it.     

  H O M E