'Stand Up Guys' trots around familiar ground
By James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies
Perfectly agreeable thanks to the charms and charisma of its three stars, "Stand Up Guys" promises buckets of fun and a raucous team-up between Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin. The fact is, that bill of sale isn't quite matched by the contents of the movie, but the enterprise is light and slight enough to mean that you can enjoy watching the three lead actors playing sunset-years tough guys out for one last spree before the bill has to be paid. Directed by actor-turned-director Fisher Stevens, from a script by first-time feature writer Noah Haidle, "Stand Up Guys" doesn't try to convince you these are old dogs working new tricks; instead, it's more like letting three warhorses out for one last heavy-hooved thundering trot around familiar ground.
We first meet Doc (Walken), a man whose colorful past has, by and large, faded to gray. The most excitement he gets is his daily breakfast at his favorite greasy spoon with his favorite waitress, Alex (Addison Timlin), coupled with his painting. Today Doc's plan is thrown off because Doc is picking up Val (Pacino) from the joint after a 28-year stretch. Val kept his mouth shut when a few syllables could have put someone else in jail and saved him a few decades of prison. Tonight, though, Val wants to raise some hell. What he doesn't know is that an old enemy, Claphands (Mark Margolis, best known as Tio Salamanca on "Breaking Bad"), has long-standing, long-term plans to send Val there for both personal and professional reasons -- with Doc having to pull the trigger before 10 the next morning.
"Stand Up Guys" also has a few praiseworthy elements that have nothing to do with the leads: Specifically, the neon-and-night-and-noir cinematography, by Michael Grady of "Easy A" and "Friends With Benefits," looks and feels right. The soundtrack's music cues, up to and including Curtis Mayfield's "Hard Times," also fit the feel of the film. (There are also original songs by Jon Bon Jovi, about which the less said the better.)
Ultimately, though, you're signing up for a violent version of "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" with "Stand Up Guys" -- more kneecappings and less Judi Dench -- but it's all the same material. Enjoy every day, repent the mistakes of your youth while never losing the passion that led to them, friendship matters. (At one point, one of the three goes to a Catholic confession, where the priest says he has to name all his sins since his last confession. Our ex-wiseguy demurs, "Nah, that'd take too long. How about today? I can tell you all the sins that happened today.") Walken's Doc is the standout among the performances, while Arkin gives events a short shot in the arm. As for Pacino, while we haven't seen him knock over a pharmacy for erectile-dysfunction drugs before (and for this many thanks, as it makes you immediately imagine Pacino with erectile function), but the rest of his role plays like a slightly wearier, slightly woozier variation on "Scent of a Woman," just with a little more mileage on the "I'm too old for this stuff" line he's been mostly offering on-screen since then. "Stand Up Guys" falls and fits into the early-year doldrums perfectly well: fine for what it is, with just enough spine when it remembers not to slump that you can see little hints of how it could have been better.
James Rocchi's writings on film have appeared at Cinematical.com, Netflix.com, AMCtv.com, IFC.com, SFGate.com and in Mother Jones magazine. He was also the on-air film critic for San Francisco's CBS-5 from 2006 to 2008. He now lives in Los Angeles, where every ending is a twist ending.