Stand Up Guys is a crime comedy about old farts going on the town for one last shoot-'em-up assault on life.
Without 'this' cast, it would be a mediocre time-waster. It would be easily dismissed and quickly forgotten. But director Fisher Stevens (the actor-turned-filmmaker) managed to get Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin to headline his ensemble of aging gangsters. Pacino is 72, Walken is 69 and Arkin is 78. With these legendary dudes on duty, this otherwise dark and dingy movie has some geriatric electricity to turn the lights on.
The simple-minded story was penned by Noah Haidle, earning his first writing credit for a feature film. Stand Up Guys kicks off when retiree Walken, an amateur oil painter who specializes in exploding sunrises, picks up Pacino at a maximum security prison. Walken's pal has just served 28 years for a violent crime they were all involved in.
Pacino never ratted out his friends. But somebody else -- Mark Margolis as the psychotic thug Claphands -- wants Pacino dead anyway for past sins. Who is the designated triggerman? This is not hard to figure out and this plot twist is soon divulged to us. Stand Up Guys is not about suspense, it is about character development and banter.
The rest of the made-in-Hollywood movie takes place over the rest of the day, into the night, and onto the explosive events of the next morning. Along the way, the story is played as a buddy comedy and occasionally as a sappy melodrama about Walken's long-lost granddaughter and Arkin's devoted daughter (Julianna Margulies). Pacino's character has no family, so he is the wild one who brazenly indulges in drugs, booze, steak dinners and sleazy (if amusing) hookers. After all, 28 years is a long time.
Pacino chews up scenery like a troll. It is fun to watch. Arkin is sly and sarcastic. Nicely done. Walken sends up Walken, using that famously stilted voice to make a mockery of the thousands of actors who imitate him. Love the guy! Everyone else in the movie -- even those we come to like -- are just superficial types. The good people are too good to believe. The bad people are total a--holes who deserve to be punished.
Some are punished, especially thugs who sexually assault a young woman. Our anti-heroes wreak revenge on her behalf and establish their moral credentials with us, the audience. They may be criminals, but our old-school guys have ethics.
It should now be obvious that you do not go to this movie expecting an action classic. Stevens is a hack director when he is doing diction. This is not something in the league of Heat, Michael Mann's 1995 heist drama which sets Pacino up against Robert De Niro. Instead, use Walken's painting as a metaphor. In the movie, Walken is no Rembrandt -- and neither is Stand Up Guys. But his vivid yellow sunrises bring us a little cheer on a winter's night. More Movie Reviews
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