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Stand Up Guys

Theatrical Review

Lionsgate; 93 minutes

Director: Fisher Stevens

Written by on February 1, 2013 

Essentially an hour-and-a-half excuse for a few great (or perhaps once-great?) performers to play off one another, Stand Up Guys, starring Al Pacino and Christopher Walken, is the lightest, most familiar kind of gangster picture available. What we have here is an array of sequences jumbled together to make a thin, sort-of narrative, which ultimately becomes a tragic, little letdown.

Val (Pacino) has just been released from prison after serving 28 years. He didn’t rat, which he’ll remind the viewers countless times throughout, so that means he’s a good guy. His best pal Doc (Walken) is there to greet him. Unfortunately, Doc has also been commissioned by the ill-named mafioso Claphands (Mark Margolis) to kill Val by 10 a.m. the next morning. Val’s aware of Doc’s dilemma; one of the film’s few strong moments is the careful conversation between the two about what will happen come morning.

The film is directed by character actor Fisher Stevens, and it’s a bit tough to tell what he’s bringing to the table. Competently put together though it may be, there is not much in way of a style or shape to much of what is going on. Over the course of one long, sloppily-paced evening (Val and Doc go to a diner three separate times within a 9-hour span, for example), not much of anything happens. This is bewildering when one considers how much technically happens throughout, including everything from a tryst at a whorehouse to a church for confession. There is even a sequence that involves Val trying to find pants for a young woman played by Vanessa Ferlito. It all feels mostly lazy and half-written.

Alan Arkin pops in for an uninspired, glorified cameo, as does Julianna Marguiles as his daughter, a character so understanding and forgiving she cannot exist in the real world. Not unlike the Pacino/De Niro disaster Righteous Kill, it’s less the film that becomes the disappointment, and more the cast in the film. Pacino and Walken have both been far worse in far worse, but never together in two lead roles. Watching these two screen legends – actors who have truly offered some of the best stuff ever on the silver screen – bum around with each other for cheap laughs and the most mellow of drama hurts something fierce.

With every redundant line delivery that slowly marks the film’s absurd, embarrassing third act, we must fight the pain and recall all the good work these two men have done before, and pray they end on something much, much better than this.

Stand Up Guys is now in wide release.


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