Stand Up Guys
Mobsters Have Bucket Lists, Too
Starring: Christopher Walken, Al Pacino
Review written by Tom Bevis
I’ve resisted writing about Stand Up Guys because, despite Righteous Kill, 88 Minutes, S1m0ne, and The Recruit, I love Al Pacino, and despite the fact that for the last several years, Christopher Walken has been playing Kevin Pollack impersonating Christopher Walken, I love Christopher Walken. But, man, never have I seen either of these guys work so weakly.
Stand Up Guys tells the story of Val (Pacino), newly released from prison and trying to stretch his legs, only to learn his former partner, Doc (Walken), has been forced to kill him by a local mob boss. The two quickly come to amends and agree to stretch out the little time they have left with their pal and former get-away driver Hirsch (Alan Arkin). The rest of the movie plays out like a poor-man’s Bucket List with retired criminals instead of The Joker and Lucius Fox.
At the face of the film is the three actors – legends, to say the least, each magnificent in their own right, each with great catalogs to lean on and fantastic past roles. But the chemistry between them is completely absent. Each and every one of them seem to only be speaking to themselves every time their mouths open. There’s an astounding lack of real humor (or original humor, for that matter) between three otherwise very funny guys. Most of the jokes in the script are old and over used (I don’t want to say ripped off from every other comedy in recent memory, but they pretty much are), and only a few of them actually hit home and get a few laughs out of the audience.
The script itself plays out like some kind of Frankenstein mutant, seemingly like parts of Mobsters, parts of Hangover, and parts of The Bucket List. It lingers, then it meanders, then it stagnates, then it wanders, then it loses its keys and has to back track, trying desperately to figure out what it’s about and where it’s going. The absolute worst part is once it really starts going, once it achieves some sort of focus and picks up on the pacing and actually finds a destination and it’s ready to hit home – right when it starts to look like an actual movie, the god damn thing ends.
That’s right. What you’re given when you watch Stand Up Guys is ninety-four minutes of introduction, something that could have – for the most part – been compressed into fifteen minutes and worked quite well as the introduction to a film instead of the entire film itself. There is no real ending to this movie – not a usual gripe I have about movies, I’m one of the few that will often take pleasure in the kind of ambiguity of a hazy ending to let the imagination play its role in the cinema-viewing process, but only when something proceeds that ending.
When a huge majority of the film is setting up for a two-minute finally that should be the beginning of the film’s second act, then I have a problem. And that’s exactly what you get here. And, to say the least, I wish it had worked, I was more excited for this film than many others opening the first quarter of this year, and I was utterly and completely let down. I was let down by the dire misuse of its ensemble’s talents, by the meandering nature of the script, and by the poor direction these guys had to rely on.
The whole thing really begs the question, though, whether the actors didn’t have a great script or good directing to work on or if these guys have just lost their touch. I’ve defended Pacino as a legitimate actor ever since people started decrying him after those train wrecks 88 Minutes and Righteous Kill back in 2007-08. At this moment, the only one I’m concerned can still pull his own weight is Arkin, although I hope we can see fantastic films featuring Pacino and Walken in the future.
For now, though, if you’re looking for a movie about aging mobsters, stick with The Crew.