Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Stand Up Guys

"We're Still Here!"
"...End of Story" 

Oh, man, it's painful, the first few minutes of Stand Up Guys, the new gangster-with-gags film directed by Fisher Stevens.  Valentine (Al Pacino) is being released from prison after 28 years, for his part in a robbery that turned deadly.  On the outside, waiting for him, is Doc (Christopher Walken), who was also part of that robbery but managed to stay out of the gray-bar hotel for reasons unknown and is now "retired," spending his free time being a diner habitué and painting landscapes.  

Doc takes Val home to his apartment, which the ex-con compares unfavorably to the accouterments he has recently vacated.  At this point in the movie, Val announces that he wants "to party," at which point I resisted an urge to get up and get popcorn.  It wasn't going to be pretty, whichever way it was played, comedy, bathos, or weirdness.  The obligatory visit to a whorehouse is somewhat lightened by Lucy Punch (a Brit actress playing a longish Island accent) as the daughter of the madam these guys used to know in their and her prime.

Things don't go well (nyuk, nyuk) so Doc and Val rob a drug store (very easily)—Val gets little blue pills and proceeds to take too many of them, and Doc has some expensive prescriptions he needs to supplement—complications arise, so to speak, which requires a trip to the hospital, where Julianna Margulies provides an "E.R." flashback and informs the two about her father, their former getaway driver, who's stuck in a nursing home.

Alan Arkin plays that character, and it's at that point that the movie picks up with a couple quick chase sequences and a needed pivot point for the Pacino-Walken dynamic.  The movie gets better with Arkin's presence, even though one can't say it improves.  But Arkin's added energy manages to lift the movie over the speed-bumps that the script-cliché's drop in the path.  Where Pacino is manic and Walken is passive, Arkin manages to bridge the gap (and their vocal pauses) with a complacent nervousness that bounces off both actors entertainingly.

It's unfortunate watching, really.  To see these gold-standard actors (all Academy Award winners, not that that really matters) reduced to mining what they can out of a vein of tin is disheartening, no matter what smiles they can produce out of it.  Something could have been done, recent examples of the story-form being In Bruges and Going in Style.*  But just the casting of these young-now-aging turks can't make this one any more than it is, a faded half-hearted comedy about aging gangsters that might have been enough to re-team Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau back in the day.

This is a minor, minor, minor film with major talent in it that eventually makes the most of the material, but can't elevate it into something worthwhile or even makes a statement.  And, frankly, I'm getting too old for movies like this.

Stand Up Guys is a Rental. 

* Martin Brest's 1979 comedy-drama about over-the-hill retired thieves trying to supplement their meager Social Security—Pacino surely knew about it, as it starred his mentor, Lee Strasberg.

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