A great big vintage car rolls up to a prison. Two old friends, both of them wearing suits that look like they have some serious age to them make some cursory small talk and then embrace. After exchanging brief pleasantries, they drive off for one last adventure to relive their glory days. It sounds like the set up for a sequel to the Blues Brothers, which with Christopher Walken and Al Pacino in the starring roles could have been a bizarre hoot, but instead what is about to transpire is more akin to the ‘Grumpy Old Goodfella’s Bucket List’.
Pacino’s character Val is the one being released. Twenty eight years before this he had the misfortune of accidentally killing the son of a powerful Mafioso, known as Claphands during a job gone terribly wrong turned into a wild crossfire situation. Claphands (It is never explained why he is called Claphands…) is played by Mark Margolis, who Breaking Bad fans will immediately recognize as Hector Salamanca, the depends wearing, bell ringing, former cartel enforcer who does some of that show’s most iconic acting through his manic facial expression alone. Here he is allowed to speak, and we hear him mostly over the phone in conversation with Christopher Walken’s character Doc, whom he (and it’s no big spoiler to reveal this much I suppose, as the movie doesn’t hide it for very long) hired, twenty-eight years ago to murder his friend Val on the day he gets released from prison.
Doc is determined though, before he does the dire deed he has been hired to do, to make his friend’s final day above ground the most memorable day it can be, and so the two of them get the old gang together and depart out on one final romp to relive their glory days with a big night on the town, hitting the clubs, bars, brothels, stealing cars, and teaching various people some good old fashioned respect via the time honored tradition of punching them in the face.
‘Stand Up Guys’, directed by Fisher Stevens, blurs the line at times between a heartfelt drama, hack job comedy, and classic gangster character study. As Doc and Val make their way through the city, (which is never identified, it is simply “the city” as it is in many classic pieces of film noir) they revisit many of the same locales at different times throughout the movie including a brothel that has only one working prostitute on duty, not counting the nerdy Madam in charge of the place (a second generation brothel operator we learn), a diner with a young waitress that Doc visits daily, and a hospital (which they visit after Val imbibes too much Viagra in one of the more desperate and ineffective attempts at comedy here..) where they find the daughter of another of their former associates, Hirsch, who they learn, in one of many of the films not so subtle coincidences is located at a nursing home there in town.
Hirsch, played by Alan Arkin, provides the movie with some of its liveliest moments for the brief time he is in it after his character is sprung from the old folks home. He seems to know best among the three what a ludicrous movie he is in and he spends his performance providing a running and biting commentary on the situations they find themselves in. Christopher Walken plays Doc as pretty much your standard Christopher Walken character with his distinctive way of speaking with the pitch of his voice going up when most other’s would be trailing off. Al Pacino here is basically a caricature of himself, once again. He does everything but jump up close to the camera lens and yell “HOO-AH!” That’s not to say the movie, or the performances are not without their charms. These three actors are all old hands at this kind of stuff and could do a movie like this in their sleep, which you could say they kind of do here.
There are your standard set pieces everywhere, including but not limited to unrealistic fight scenes where they prevail against much younger and stronger men of greater number, (the violence here is played more for laughs than drama in most cases) car chases, and jokes about them being old and out of touch codgers. The idea of a car starting with a button instead of a key confuses them to no end, as one example.
There are some genuinely good moments, like when Pacino’s character strikes out at a club trying to hit on a table of young ladies, and then in a display of wistful realization, pays the DJ to play something old with feeling from “back when music was music” and then politely apologizes to the girls he has just offended and charms one of them into just one sweet dance with him. This movie’s glories are in the little moments like that, and other scenes in which both Val and Doc speak in poignant monologues that sound like philosophic commentaries on an entire career’s worth of characters they have played in movies such as this.
This is, surprisingly, the first time Walken and Pacino have starred together in a feature film. Their chemistry here suggests otherwise, as they produce an effortless repartee together later spiced up even more with the addition of Arkin’s character. I remember in my review of the movie ‘Righteous Kill’ in which Pacino co-starred with Robert Deniro a few years back I opened with the discussion of whether the inclusion of legendary stars in a sub-par movie elevates the movie, or amounts to make the movie all the worse for the wasting of the precious resources involved. In this case, I think Pacino and Walken are up to the chore of injecting what would have been an otherwise gloomy production with their own particular style and wit, but that said, I would have much preferred seeing them together in a better movie when all was said and done. Provided you are already a fan of their previous work, I wouldn’t hesitate against recommending renting this movie in the future, but, I would perhaps recommend making it the lead-in appetizer to another, better movie to be watched afterwards.
Stand Up Guys gets a three out of five: SATISFYING.