Enjoyable, but falls short; "Stand Up Guys" doesn't quite get there
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 10:02
When you’re given a script which calls for obvious, impending doom and you have a cast that includes Al Pacino and Christopher Walken it’s best to just get out of the way and allow the magic to happen. However, in “Stand Up Guys” there’s a sense that director Fisher Stevens was overreaching for something too complex and putting too many fingerprints on a canvas better left to the brush of the actors involved.
The story revolves around two friends, Val (Pacino) and Doc (Walken) who at one time decades ago were involved in organized crime. Val is being released from prison after serving a 28-year sentence in connection to a gunfight. Doc greets him outside the prison gate and a trip down memory lane ensues.
Val is ready to party and suggests visiting and old cathouse he and Doc used to frequent back in their day. Doc indulges Val for a time but is clearly uncomfortable because he’s been saddled with a very heavy task.
Val and Doc’s old boss has a score to settle, and gives Doc the task of killing Val. Val has a sense that the hit is coming and eventually gets Doc to reveal that he is the one charged with eliminating Val.
It’s a very ambitious storyline. In order for there to be a sense of regret for what we know is going to come, we have to believe that there is a real, lifelong bond between the two men. Stevens constructs that narrative pretty well through the retelling of old stories and the situations Val and Doc get themselves into. There’s an especially comedic part when Val can’t “perform” at the cathouse so the two men rob a pharmacy to cure Val’s impotence.
Where the film struggles is in deciding whether it wants to be “Grumpy Old Men”, “Goodfellas” or a combination of the two. A comedy has to be a comedy at least 70 percent of the time. The same goes for a drama. But “Stand Up Guys” gives us this rather interesting script straight down the middle, 50/50. It could work as a comedy. It could work as a drama. But it doesn’t work as both.
The most surprising part is the acting of Pacino and Walken. I don’t know if I’ve seen either of them play these characters at any point in their career. Val and Doc are meant to be old men nearing their final days. They move like it, they speak like it and they think like it. However, they don’t look it and I didn’t buy it. I don’t know if the script called for two confused versions of Pacino and Walken or if Stevens felt it was the best way to tell the story.
What I do know is Pacino and Walken could have given us the same on screen personas they’ve been known for and “Stand Up Guys” would have been more enjoyable. I didn’t like wondering if Pacino and Walken were made to be that confused because they were a couple of retired wise guys or because the characters were meant to come off as old.
The Pacino from “Heat” and the Walken from “King of New York” could have both been funnier and more moving regardless of whether the script called for humor or sincerity.
In an hour and 33 minutes Stevens did the best he could to construct a story that made me regret what was coming at the end of the film.
But a few of the scenes meant for laughs and others meant for tears came off as contrived.
“Stand Up Guys” is an interesting concept that ultimately misses the mark in what it was trying to accomplish. I’m unsure if I’m supposed to find the film amusing or heartfelt.
Yet, the movie is not a total letdown, and it is an enjoyable watch. If Stevens had just picked a consistent path we may have understood his intentions better, and some things wouldn’t have felt so phony.