Stand Up Guys
Stand Up Guys (2012)
★ / ★★★★
When filmmakers dare to put two legendary performers into one film, it is not unreasonable to have a certain level of expectation. In this case, Al Pacino and Christopher Walken, known for their tough guy, gangster personas, the former an expert in detonating explosive outbursts and the latter commanding such a cold gaze that he can put ice on a popsicle, play two friends, Val and Doc, respectively, who spend a whole night getting into misadventures before one of them ends up dead by ten o’clock in the morning.
Doc is assigned by Claphands (Mark Margolis) to kill Valentine, recently paroled after spending twenty-eight years in prison, to avenge the death of his only son. Although Doc is having second thoughts, he knows that it will have to be done eventually–either by him, who considers Val to be a true friend, or someone else who could care less.
But the problem is not the premise. It is the best thing about the film. The screenplay by Noah Haidle is so dull, it does not give the performers and the director, Fisher Stevens, a fighting chance. The jokes are infantile, a lot of it having to do with erections and hitting on much younger women. The would-be laughs are so generic, I wondered if Haidle really had an understanding–and love–for older people and, equally important, the medium.
Halfway through, I wanted to demand to see the script. I suspected there wasn’t any. Sure, Val and Doc visit different places such as a brothel, a bar, a hospital, a diner, and whatever is open at night, but their exchanges do not have the energy necessary to keep us engaged other than the fact that Pacino and Walken are likable performers. Instead, the characters are reduced to using lines like “Remember when…” and “Just like the old days.” The picture suffers on an elementary level: it fails to give us a glimpse of the kind of history the characters share without relying on such convenient lines.
It might have worked better as a drama sans subplot. The women cardboard cutouts (Julianna Margulies, Lucy Punch, Addison Timlin) do not do anything to progress the plot anyway. If the story were set in a bar or a diner and the two men engaged in an interesting conversation that touched upon memories of their pasts–jobs that succeeded and failed, regrets about not making strong connections with other people, actions they wished they could take back–then it might have been interesting an experience. Instead, we are asked to find the comedy in the dead fish placed onto our laps.
“Stand Up Guys” is shockingly bad. At several points, Val asks Doc how much time he has left. While Doc looks at his watch, we wonder about a similar thing: the number of minutes we have yet to sit through and endure.