"They say we die twice. Once when the breath leaves our body and once when the last person we know says our name."
There's a temptation to approach everything Al Pacino does with a sense of impending doom. Pretty much everything he's done since his Oscar-winning turn in Scent of a Woman has made him devolve into a self parody of his younger self. There are exceptions to this however (Angels in America, You Don't Know Jack) but more often than not, even the most promising Pacino performances reach a point where he can't contain his hammier impulses & he drags the film down with him.
Thankfully Stand Up Guys never reaches that point, in spite of a marginal script that desperately tries to sabotage itself with some out of place humor (more on that later). But overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the film.
After getting released from prison, Val (Pacino) is picked up by his old friend Doc (Christopher Walken). Val's been in the clink for 28 years for a job gone wrong, and now Doc is tasked with the nasty business of having to kill his best friend. During the botched crime, Val ended up accidentally killing the only son of their boss Claphands (Mark Margolis), and the only reason that he spared Doc was so that he would kill Val upon his release.
Upon surmising that Doc is the one to kill him, Val asks if they can have the night of their lives first. This involves stealing pharmaceuticals & a car, springing their old friend Hirsch (Alan Arkin) from a retirement home, and a few visits to a local brothel. The old criminal trio's reunion reinvigorates their spirits, and makes Doc begin to doubt whether or not he can do what he's being forced to do.
The biggest issue with the film is that it too quickly goes for cheap laughs when it really doesn't need to. Much of the film's early humor comes from some really obvious and awful set-ups. For example, did we honestly need another Viagra joke at this point in time? Worse still is a fairly low-key scene that follows, where some crucial information is gathered, is all played with Pacino lying on a hospital gurney with his comically grotesque boner popping up under a bed sheet.
Thankfully, the film does not hang its hat on such absurd set pieces, and has enough sense to move beyond this nonsense. It eventually settles in and becomes a solidly touching film whose success will totally depend on your feelings of goodwill for its trio of stars. These three actors have enough charisma to carry much better films than this, and elevate the half baked material they were given to work with. In general though, I can see a direct correlation between how much you enjoy these actors, and how much you'll enjoy the film.
The film reminds me a great deal of Grumpy Old Men. Not the most earth shattering movie ever made, but if you like seeing Walter Matthau & Jack Lemmon play a couple of crabby old bastards trying to kill one another, you'll have a blast. It's the same concept here. Watching Pacino, Walken & Arkin play youthful old criminals has a ton of novelty value, and probably made me enjoy the film more than most other people would. This is a great movie to watch with your dad, particularly if you grew up watching films like The Godfather with him.
Pacino keeps himself reigned in nicely, and ends up being better here than he's been in a long time. Walken is also great, playing things much more low key than usual, but also landing a few key laughs with his typically unconventional line readings. Arkin is good, if underused, and the supporting cast including Lucy Punch, Julianna Margulies & Addison Timlin are all very good as well. Director Fisher Stevens does a nice job with his composition, particularly Pacino's dance with a young lady at a bar & the final shot of the film was quite lovely.
This isn't the kind of thing you'll catch me saying often, but because this film was released in an otherwise dead couple of months, it's better than average. Had it been released back in November, surrounded by prestige pictures, it would have faded into memory as an anomaly, but in the doldrums of winter, it ends up seeming better than it actually is. If you like these actors in this kind of situation, I have a hard time believing you won't like this movie, or at the very least, enjoy it for what it is. If nothing else, it's worth the novelty of seeing a couple of once great actors having fun again.
GO Rating: 3/5
[Photos via Rotten Tomatoes]