Mark Reviews Movies

Stand Up Guys


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Fisher Stevens

Cast: Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin, Julianna Margulies, Mark Margolis, Lucy Punch, Addison Timlin, Vanessa Ferlito

MPAA Rating: R (for language, sexual content, violence and brief drug use)

Running Time: 1:34

Release Date: 12/14/12 (limited); 2/1/13 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 1, 2013

Stand Up Guys is about two men trying to find dignity in the waning, final hours of their lives. That the movie attempts this noble ideal by ignobly putting those characters—and by extension actors Al Pacino and Christopher Walken—through a series of undignified situations is an irony completely lost on director Fisher Stevens.

These are sad men—lonely, late-in-life, and lost—but surely the line between sad and pathetic has been crossed when Pacino's Val spends an inordinate amount of time—in the limited time he has left—tending to his inability to perform in the bedroom with a prostitute. Then one has to find a word to describe the territory into which the movie ventures when Val finds himself in the hospital with a bulge in the sheet covering him after an overdose on sexual enhancement medication. As if that weren't enough (Yes, it goes on from there), we almost immediately find ourselves skipping over uncovering a word for that scenario as soon as Val is facing a giant needle that the doctor says is necessary to remove the excess blood from his you-know-what.

Pacino gets the shaft (No pun is intended, but take it if you will) in this sequence of events, spread over the long night's journey into day that will be Val's last one in life. Earlier in the day, he left jail on parole after an almost three-decade-long sentence for the murder of the son of a big-time crime boss named "Clap Hands" (Mark Margolis) during a failed robbery. Clap Hands (not a request) still holds a grudge against Val and Val's friend Doc (Walken), who also participated in the robbery, and has ordered Doc to kill his best friend once he's released from prison or be killed himself (In a spiteful and forward-thinking movie, Clap Hands gave the command on the day Val went to prison).

Doc is torn up about what he must do and has a difficult time bringing himself to kill Val, even when the perfect opportunities present themselves. He tries to talk Clap Hands out of the plan, but instead gets a deadline of ten o'clock the next morning. Because of Doc's hesitation, we get the long episode with the medication and the needle, so there's that to consider in weighing whether or not the delay is beneficial to anyone.

Fortunately, there is more to Noah Haidle's screenplay than the forced comedy of errors involving Val's unmentionables. Val, despite evidence to the contrary, is a smart man, and he manages to cajole the truth out of Doc. Both men have accepted that this is the way it must be—a conclusion that manages to bring both of their respective intelligences into question. Surely they're missing a few obvious ways around the dilemma. Doc suggests Val run, but he doesn't want to. Plus, that leaves Doc's fate in jeopardy, except that he has no reason to stick around town, either. Sure, there's a pretty waitress (Addison Timlin) at the local diner that he visits every day she has a shift, but later Haidle reveals that she—despite her connection to Doc—is no hindrance to his escape.

In essence, it's a false quandary that only serves to put Val and Doc in one episode after another in which the two try to reclaim their former glory before their friendship comes to a violent—and, again, completely avoidable—end. They go to a bar where Val miserably fails to hit on a group of younger women before somehow convincing one of them to dance with him. They steal a sports car on the street and spring Hirsch (Alan Arkin), their old getaway driver, from a retirement. The three take a joyride around the city, get into a high-speed chase with the cops, and avenge the brutal assault of a woman (Vanessa Ferlito) they find in the trunk.

The movie is all over the place in terms of tone and only finds something resembling honesty when it drops the embarrassing shtick of crude comedy and lost-glory adventuring, allowing Pacino and Walken to have some quiet moments of reflection over one of their multiple meals at the diner or the grave of a fallen comrade. Doc offers a eulogy here that comes straight from the darkest fears of one hovering on the edge of extinction (Walken comes away without any major blemish).

Then we're reminded of how phony the movie's premise is when Haidle must find a way to write these characters out of the corner. The final moment is intended as one last blaze of glory, but Stand Up Guys, having no knowledge of such a concept, only manages a crescendo of contrived convenience.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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