Stand Up Guys
(USA, 93 min.)
Dir. Fisher Stevens, Writ. Noah Hadle
Starring: Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin, Julianna Margulies, Lucy Punch, Vanessa Ferlito, Mark Margolis, Addison Timlin.
Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin and Al Pacino star in Stand Up Guys
Courtesy of eOne Films
“Hey guys,” says Peter Farrelly, “wouldn’t it be funny if Movie 43 had some old actor like Al Pacino take a boner pill?” Al Pacino takes a Viagra in Stand Up Guys (a whole handful, in fact), but rather than providing some facile sketch for Farrelly and company, the little blue pill cures the actor of the impotence that’s been plaguing him since Gigli. Sharing the screen with Christopher Walken, who continues his string of strong performances of late (see: A Late Quartet), Pacino gives his best film performance in quite some time in Stand Up Guys. What could have very well been a geriatric sex sketch, Stand Up Guys shows how a mediocre film can be redeemed when great actors are given roles worth playing.

If Movie 43 is an explosion of misfired sketches, then Stand Up Guys is a feature-length sitcom that barely hits the target. A mildly amusing yarn, Stand Up Guys stretches a decent buddy-movie premise across a thin hour-and-a-half running time. The veteran actors star as two former con men named Val (Pacino) and Doc (Walken), who reunite for one last night of glory. The film begins on the day of Val’s release from prison. He has spent thirty years in the slammer serving a homicide charge. Doc, on the other hand, has been living free. Doc is there to greet his friend upon his release and Stand Up Guys follows their celebration of Val’s freedom, which may actually be the friends’ last hurrah.

The old friends reminisce about the old days over drinks and surf ‘n’ turf. They also visit a whorehouse (cue the Viagra), steal a car, bust their pal (Alan Arkin) out of a retirement home, perform a few petty robberies, and assist a damsel in distress (Vanessa Ferlito). Funny scenarios of dirty old men ensue, as do so fine nods to the actors’ careers, such as a nice bit with Al Pacino that pays homage to the tango scene in Scent of a Woman, but much of the time in Val’s big party simply feels like filler. The detours in the friends’ soirée include a cast of awkward and unnecessary supporting players, especially a contrived subplot involving Hirsh’s daughter (Julianna Margulies) and a series of dinner dates with a waitress friend of Doc’s (Addison Timlin). Alan Arkin also appears for roughly five minutes of sex jokes (no Viagra), but then disappears abruptly and pointlessly after crossing a something dirty off his bucket list.

The series of silly episodes—sketches, really—mask the deeper conflict that’s worthy of the actors’ talents. As retribution for the deed for which Val was convicted, Doc is tasked by a mobster (Mark Margolis) to execute Val for killing his son. Val acknowledges the fate that awaits him early in the evening – during their first meal, actually. (The first of four meals.) Val and Doc continue their fun throughout the night, turning a “welcome home” party into a send-off, and the two stand up guys ruminate about their friendship and the honour among thieves that kept their friendship intact all these years.

Stand Up Guys never really goes anywhere with the moral dilemma that underlies the folly of the evening. It never achieves the gravitas of Quartet or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel as it puts two Oldfellas on the final chapter of their life of crime. (The Last Stand is even a better tale of aged gunslinging.) Rather than probe the moral codes of friendship, or the toils of life on the run, the film satisfies itself with trite situational comedy. It’s a waste of talent, really, when one imagines what could have been achieved by having these two eccentric actors go out with a bang.

On the other hand, the film offers the treat of watching veteran actors at the top of their game. Pacino and Walken both relish the last hurrah of their con men, and they consistently elevate the material beyond a passable diversion. The car chases and boner jokes aren’t the prized scenes of Stand Up Guys. It’s the scenes of Al Pacino, hunched over a table, reminiscing about the good old days in his raspy voice, or of Christopher Walken delivering a poignant monologue with his signature strangeness that really sell the show. It’s a shame, though, that Pacino and Walken did not find a better film in which to shine, but the actors are stand up guys for bringing this material to a higher level. 

Rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)  

Stand Up Guys is currently playing in Ottawa at Empire Kanata and Cineplex South Keys.