“Stand Up Guys” is the tale of three elderly men having one last night out on the town together. They realize that there’s not much time left, so they figure, why not get the gang back together and relive their glory days? On its own, this might not seem like such an unusual premise, that is, until you factor in that these guys are all former criminals who used to be involved in activities such as robbery and murder. With that in mind, you can begin to imagine just what kind of a night on the town these three would have.
Val (Al Pacino) has just been released from prison after a 28-year sentence. He is met by an old colleague of his, Doc (Christopher Walken), who takes him back to his apartment and then out to do whatever he wants to do on his big day. This includes activities like grabbing a cup of coffee, making love to women, and dancing. Along the way, we discover what it was that got Val put away in the first place, but we also realize that Doc has been given a job to do. Due to a mistake Val made during a job all those years ago, Doc has been given the assignment of killing him. It doesn’t take Val long to realize this, which prompts him to spring their other companion, Hirsch (Alan Arkin), from a nursing home and go out for one last hurrah.
Sounds like it would be an interesting premise, no? Well, no, it doesn’t turn out to be an interesting premise because the writer, Noah Heidle, seems at a loss as to what to do with it. Early on, we know there is something suspicious going on with Doc, who is seen carrying a gun around. We eventually learn exactly what he has to do, leading you to think this is going to be a fascinating character piece that has him trying to come to terms with killing his best friend, but instead, the plot gets very heavily sidetracked.
It begins to ignore the main plot very early on, opting instead to focus on Val trying to make love to a prostitute at one of their old hang out spots. However, this is no quick detour. Being a rather old man, Val has trouble performing, causing him to have to break into a pharmacy to steal some male supplements. Instead of leaving it at that, the script calls for him to take too many, giving him a long-lasting effect that requires him to have to go to the hospital for treatment. Does this seem like the kind of scenario that fits into a movie like this?
There are parts that have the men being boys: they steal a car, drive around really fast, lose the cops in a chase, etc. This is fine for a little while, but you still have the elephant in the room hanging around wherever they go. After several more escapades, it’s finally addressed again near the end of the film, leading them to do what they should have done from the start, especially since they’ve been looking to relive the good old days. It may have taken an extra threat to get there, but at the very least, the film ends well.
Despite the film not living up to the premise, it is doubtful that they could have assembled a better cast than this trio of Oscar winners. Walken is always reliable as a kind of soft-spoken tough guy. Pacino seems to be having a little fun, though it remains questionable why he would sign on for something that contained such pointless material for his character. It’s always a delight to see Arkin (recently nominated for an Oscar for “Argo”). He gets the least screentime, but he too appears to be having some fun with the character.
It may surprise you to learn that this film comes from director Fisher Stevens. Yes, the same Fisher Stevens who starred in the “Short Circuit” films, and who also won an Oscar not too long ago for producing the excellent documentary “The Cove.” The film is competently directed, showing that Stevens has a decent eye for the job. It’s rather impressive given that it’s only his second feature film.
This is Heidle’s first screenplay, which could explain why it just doesn’t work as well as he’d hoped. There’s far too much meandering here for it to make much of an impact. If he had buckled down and concentrated on the most important element of the story, he really could have had an intriguing character study. Perhaps he was thinking that if they simply got the best actors they could find, then everything would be fine. Unfortunately for him, even these three Oscar winners aren’t miracle workers. 2/4 stars.
Starts tomorrow in limited release.
Now playing in theaters: Parker, John Dies at the End, Zero Dark Thirty, Promised Land, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, This is 40, Amour, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln, Argo