Some films have that special something, and some films seem like they stepped in something. Allow me to help you know the difference, and maybe find you something good to watch.
STAND UP GUYS – rated ‘R’ / running-time of one hour and 34 minutes / directed by Fisher Stevens / written by Noah Haidle / actors: Christopher Walken, Al Pacino, Alan Arkin, Mark Margolis, Lucy Punch, Vanessa Ferlito, Addison Timlin, Julianna Margulies
At the core of this film is the prospect that Al Pacino and Christopher Walken are in a movie together. The plot, the rest of the cast, the director, nothing else is as important as the idea that these two giants finally get to play together, bounce off each other, and share some scenes.
(Before you nit-pickers can call me out on it, yes, I’m well aware that they were both in GIGLI, but they never shared a scene.)
That was my thinking going into this film, and after watching it, I still haven’t changed my mind. Yes, Alan Arkin is in it, and yes he does a fantastic job, but despite what you see in the trailers, Arkin is only in it for 15-20 minutes. He’s great while he’s there, but STAND UP GUYS is much more focused on the friendship of Walken and Pacino.
And it works! Walken and Pacino are at their best, giving wonderfully nuanced performances, and playing off each other with ease. I buy that these are two old friends, I buy the painful history, and the things left unspoken. Usually, these two actors are known for their over-the-top delivery, with shouting, and grandstanding, and intimidating monologues ending in violence. W & P are more than that, and they prove it.
The plot is that 28-years ago Val (Pacino), Doc (Walken) and Hirsch (Arkin) were a team of stick-up men who worked for a mean motor-scooter named Clap-Hands (Margolis). Val accidentally killed Clap’s only son, went to prison for it, and now that he’s out, Doc is tasked with killing his friend, or else. So they break Hirsch out of his old-folks home, and have one night of debauchery and hell-raising before it’s decision-time.
I’m also reminded of Spike Lee’s 25th HOUR (2002), with Edward Norton. Yeah, the story’s about a young guy about to go IN for a long time, instead of an old guy coming OUT, but the idea’s the same. Putting your house in order, saying goodbye, doing the things you want or need to do. Good stuff, either way. I also think of RED (2010), SPACE COWBOYS (2000), and unfortunately, THE CREW (2000), the last being the only one which you don’t really need to see.
One last comparison, and I feel I have to mention it because it shares the most in common. There was a film in the mid-eighties called TOUGH GUYS, with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, about two gangsters, friends, who are released from prison after 30 years. I haven’t seen it since I was a kid, but it’s very similar, no? It was a good story and its success depended highly on the charisma of its leads.
Just like STAND UP GUYS. It’s all about Walken, Pacino, and Arkin selling the goods. Because the script doesn’t do it. First time screenwriter Noah Haidle did a fine job, some good lines here and there, but nothing amazing. Nothing that singles him out. Same goes for the director, Fisher Stevens mostly stays out of the way, and tells the story without much stylistic flair, a strategy that seems sound, as it would just call attention to itself anyways, but still lacking in oomph.
There are a bunch a really good secondary characters sprinkled throughout this film. Mark Margolis is playing the part that Walken would have played in the past. He is the unforgiving and eccentric crime-boss, who demands the death of Pacino’s character, Val. Though he has only a few lines, he delivers them with a manic fury that is every bit as entertaining as it is intimidating.
Lucy Punch is ridiculously good in this. If you’ve seen her in anything else, you know that she has a natural flair for comedy. She plays the daughter of the whore-house madame that Walken and Pacino used to frequent.
There are actually a lot of young, attractive actresses in this film about three old guys. Vanessa Ferlito is the naked girl they find in the trunk. Julianna Margulies is the doctor that helps them out of a hard situation. Addison Timlin is an awfully pretty waitress that is also connected in some way to the trio, but I won’t spoil it. Not to mention Katheryn Winnick, Courtney Galiano, and Lauriane Gilliéron. A bevy of beauties abound.
Another thing I should mention is the soundtrack. Really good. A lot of old Soul and R&B Motown tunes throughout, and it isn’t filled with the popular ones you hear used over-used in movies all the time. It feels like an even more obscure version of the JACKIE BROWN soundtrack, definitely worth checking out. Supposedly Jon Bon Jovi did a song or two for this film, but it didn’t impress me. Not bad, just mediocre.
All in all, this was a good little story. This isn’t a big-budget saga of the criminal underworld inner-workings or a bloody tale of long-awaited revenge. And this isn’t an action shoot ’em up either, though there are nods to all of that in here.
It’s a drama that acts light-hearted for most of the way. There are some laughs, some action, and just a little bit of tugging on the ol’ heartstrings in a few choice places.
I do have a few qualms though. I think there could have been just a bit more sex and violence. The situations were already there, they just could have shown more. I think that a little bit of nipple, and a fist-fight or two would have gone a long way towards adding momentum and allowing the film to sail through some of its more laggy sections.
Also, the third act is weak. Without giving anything away, I think the ending could have been better, clearer, a bit smarter. And that’s unfortunate, because in my opinion the message of a movie is in how it ends. And that’s kind of important.
It doesn’t matter though, I really enjoyed this film. STAND UP GUYS gives two of our greatest living actors the opportunity to finally work together, and it is wise enough to give them the room to stretch out and explore that space, to play off each other, to riff, and see what happens.
I’ll tell you what happens: Two old bad-asses kick some ass.