Movie Review: Stand Up Guys
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
Seeing the names Christopher Walken and Al Pacino at the top of a movie poster could understandably lead to some wincing. The screen legends have landed in several unfortunate movies over the past decade, often aping the defining characteristics that made them famous.
“Stand Up Guys” finds the two actors playing subtler versions of those caricatures, but they have very little material with which to work. The movie from director Fisher Stevens echoes much of the visual stylings of the pulpy noir of the 1990s set in Los Angeles, but the story, which lacks any adrenaline, ambles about, never quite hooking the audience.
Walken and Pacino bring a sweet, subtle charm to the tale of two old friends, making the movie watchable if not terribly entertaining. Val (Pacino) has spent the past 28 years locked away for a crime we never learn much about. What we do know is that he never rolled on the guys who were with him that day. He’s a “stand up guy,” after all.
One of his old running mates was Doc (Walken), a somewhat reformed bad boy who spends his twilight years following the same routine: painting, asking forgiveness at church and enjoying quiet meals at his favorite diner.
Val comes out of the joint raring to party, which leads to some hackneyed Viagra jokes — Val gobbles the stuff like blue M&Ms — and a comical interlude at a house of ill repute. How long have these guys been out of the game? So long that the brothel is now run by the daughter of the madam they once knew. The proprietor is played with a goofy overbite and indistinguishable accent by British actress Lucy Punch.
Just as the movie starts to take the shape of classic “getting-the-gang-back-together” mold, we realize things aren’t what they seem. Doc has been sent by a mysterious criminal boss, Claphands (Mark Margolis, who plays the haunting Hector Salamanca in “Breaking Bad”), to kill his old buddy. Val killed Claphands’ only son. Now he must pay. It never becomes clear exactly, outside of some menacing threat of violence, why Doc is indebted to Claphands.
As the two friends shoot pool, dine together and revisit days of former glory — including a brief and nonsensical scene where they rescue a damsel in distress — the seams of their old bond reappear. But Val knows what Doc must do; whether Doc can fulfill his obligation remains to be seen.
The movie plays out over 24 hours, as the two guys meet old pal Hirsch (a criminally underused Alan Arkin), for a brief rekindling of their old ways. The reunion nods to a forgotten era, when there was an honor among thieves and women were left out of the nasty business of violence. Or something to that effect.
“Stand Up Guys” is a collage of tropes from buddy movies, crime stories and Westerns, but the story can never make a cohesive whole out of its parts.
The soundtrack features some classic soul and R&B as well as some modern takes on the genres — Baby Huey’s “Hard Times” opens the film and Austinites Gary Clark Jr.’s “Bright Lights” closes it — but “Stand Up Guys” feels like a dressed-up story with nowhere to go.
The script from playwright Noah Haidle features a few well-crafted lines, but their importance feels out of place in a movie this slight, and the pacing feels better-suited for the stage.
It’s nice to see Walken lay back in a role, pushed willingly into a corner by mercy and regret of a life misspent, and Pacino blends bravado and resignation well as a fading criminal who still likes to mix it up but has lost any interest in running. It’s too bad the story of “Stand Up Guys” is not as compelling or nuanced as the lead performances.