Gene Siskel test: is the movie you’re watching more interesting than a documentary featuring the same actors chatting over lunch, My Dinner with Andre-style? Most movies seem to fail this test. Stand Up Guys doesn’t even come close.
When you cast Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and Alan Arkin as your leads, you don’t have to do much. 90 minutes of pure improv would have been more than enough to win me over. Unfortunately, Stand Up Guys is the kind of half-hearted, half-serious Tarantino-esque pulp that went out of style in the late 90s. It’s always a pleasure to see these guys in action, but this material is so weak it drains all the fun away.
As the film begins, Pacino’s “Val” has just been released from prison for an undisclosed crime. He’s picked up by Walken’s “Doc”, and he “wants to party.” Off to the whorehouse. Uh-oh, Val can’t get it up. A trip to the pharmacy, a handful of pills…oh, come on, guys – Viagra jokes? Already?
And…nothing much happens. “Meandering” is the right word for the script, by Noah Haidle, which is driven not by its character’s actions or ambitions but by completely random events. A car stolen on a whim, a naked woman found in the trunk, two trips to the diner, two trips to the hospital, three (!) trips to the whorehouse…call it a road movie that doesn’t go anywhere.
There is some semblance of a story in here, which the script keeps in the background, and slowly doles out little bits of along the way. Val and Doc were bank robbers (maybe…) and Hirsch (Arkin) – who they break out of a retirement home – was their getaway driver. Something went wrong during a job, and the local Mafioso’s son was killed.
Val went up for the crime, and upon his release, the Mafioso (Mark Margolis) wants Doc to kill him. By – let’s be arbitrary – 10:00 the next morning, to give us some time to kill, roughly enough to fill a short-ish feature.
This is actually a decent-enough story; a starting point, at least to drop the scenario and let the actors do their thing. Precisely what Stand Up Guys doesn’t do. I hate this kind of storytelling. Hiding information from us, then revealing it later on is not a “twist”, nor is it story progression. It’s bad writing, and makes the film less about the story, and more about the way you’ve decided to tell it.
But even in a best-case scenario, this script was the geriatric version of 21 & Over. I don’t know what in the world attracted Pacino, Walken, and Arkin to it, but their mere presence is more than the film deserves, and saves it from being a complete waste of time. All three are still a joy to watch, though Arkin’s role is minor, and Walken is pretty subdued (Pacino, meanwhile, is as out-there as he’s been recently).
Stand Up Guys was directed by Fisher Stevens, better known as a character actor (Short Circuit). I’m guessing someone owed him a favor, and the others – along with a talented supporting cast, featuring Julianna Margulies and Lucy Punch – jumped on board for the chance to work together. It certainly wasn’t based on the strength of the screenplay.
Jon Bon Jovi provided some original songs for the film, including the hearfelt Not Running Anymore; like the cast, his participation mostly goes to waste.