To be clear, Stand Up Guys is not about comedians telling jokes in nightclubs. Instead, it’s a shaggy drama about two retired New Jersey mobsters facing their mortality. More to the point, it’s a vehicle for two brilliant lights of their generation, so it’s really a shame that the result turns out so dim.
The story encompasses 22 hours after Valentine (Al Pacino) is released from a 28-year stint in prison and picked up by his best friend Doc (Christopher Walken). The happy occasion is due to be short-lived, because Val was serving time for a robbery that ended with several people dead, including his accomplice, a mob boss’ son. The embittered boss (Mark Margolis) has now ordered Doc to kill Val by 10 o’clock the next morning or forfeit his own life. Conscience-ridden, Doc tries to let his longtime pal and colleague enjoy a few last hours of freedom before putting a bullet in him.
The main plot is pretty much a foregone conclusion, as Val reveals early on to Doc that he has guessed what the situation is. This being the case, the movie rises or falls on its little moments, as the two crooks reminisce about their younger days, rehash their regrets in life, and make peace with their eventual fate. Director Fisher Stevens (a longtime actor who previously directed the nonsensical romantic comedy Just a Kiss) captures some of the pathos of these old guys who have few friends left, making up for lost time by looking for a prostitute for Val to have sex with. However, debut screenwriter Noah Haidle’s dialogue is unmemorable, and the plot developments — which include a meeting with an ER doctor (Julianna Margulies) who’s the daughter of an old friend and a revelation about a young waitress (Addison Timlin) who waits on Doc — offer little that’s of interest. The first-time collaboration of veterans Pacino and Walken is the big selling point, and could have been the saving of the film had it worked. Sadly, the partnership stubbornly fails to spark.
Stand Up Guys perks up slightly when Doc and Val rescue their former getaway driver (Alan Arkin) from a nursing home and steal a car, which provides the occasion for a nice car chase. This, however, is an isolated spike in a low-temperature affair that, despite the talent on screen and the life-or-death stakes in its story, comes out as the cinematic equivalent of wallpaper, something that you barely notice going on in the background. Other meetings of powerhouse actors have come to as little in the past, but somehow that doesn’t lessen the disappointment of seeing something like this fall flat.
Stand Up Guys
Starring Al Pacino and Christopher Walken. Directed by Fisher Stevens. Written by Noah Haidle. Rated R.