★★ (out of 5 stars)
Friday, Feb. 1st
Director Fisher Stevens, better known as an actor and producer, apparently saw Clint Eastwood's Space Cowboys and decided that he could waste the talents of great old actors even more spectacularly. The result is Stand Up Guys, a clever concept squandered on a mediocre screenplay and an inexperienced director.
Al Pacino is Val, just released from prison after 28 years. Waiting to collect him and give him a place to stay is his friend and former partner in crime, Doc (Christopher Walken). But the seemingly loyal gesture of a prison pick-up masks the fact that there is serious, unfinished business left over from the crime that landed Val in jail.
But that business can wait, at least for a day, as this is a comedy/drama about old men trying to reclaim their youth and have a blast doing it. There's drinking, burglary, drugs, dancing with reluctant younger women and, most notably, multiple visits to a whorehouse. (If you think that scenario was tired on the guys' first trip there, wait for the third visit and its penis-in-a-vacuum reference.) Val and Doc eventually involve Hirsch (Alan Arkin) in their debauchery, and though Arkin's initial presence gives the film a small energy boost, his is the least interesting, and most underwritten, of the main characters.
All three actors, in fact, play less watchable, more contrived versions of their characters from other films. Pacino reprises his moments of joy – and even his dance – from Scent of a Woman; Arkin, as in Little Miss Sunshine, is near death but still full of horny chutzpah; and Walken is the kind but slightly sad father figure from Catch Me If You Can. Throw in Julianna Margulies in an unbelievable turn as Hirsch's daughter and quirky Lucy Punch as the whorehouse madam, and the plot becomes even more muddled, despite a tender but failed attempt to paint the three men as criminals with a code of honor, leftovers from a generation of honorable hoods.
A Tarantino touch helps the film slightly, but regrettably, the pace is as creaky and the jokes as limp as the old guys themselves, and no amount of Viagra jokes can give things a boost. Levity and seriousness are misplaced and tossed around with little care, as is the music, which adds confusion and schmaltz when it should be reflecting and enhancing what naturalism the film can muster. Even the title itself is wrong – missing its hyphen – a metaphor for a movie that shows glimpses of life but ends up dying a slow death from its poorly punctuated portraits of three lost lives.
The main line, heard twice – and stolen from John Carpenter's They Live – is "It's time to kick ass or chew gum, and I'm all out of gum." It's a shame the three acting legends didn't have the guts to tell Stevens and writer Noah Haidle that their screenplay kicked no ass whatsoever.
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