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Stand Up Guys

There’s a hint of laughter and a hint of sadness in the bittersweet comedy Stand Up Guys, but neither comes for the right reasons.

The laughter is at the expense of the rattletrap screenplay for this creaky gangster picture, and the sadness is for the three Oscar-winning stars who agreed to have their reputations partially tarnished by appearing in this borderline embarrassment.

The film opens with Doc (Christopher Walken) welcoming the release from prison of his friend Val (Al Pacino), who was serving a lengthy sentence after taking the fall for some fellow con men. It leads to a night on the town among old pals, with the duo even freeing their mutual friend Hirsch (Alan Arkin) from a nursing home to join in the fun.

As Val enjoys his newfound freedom and even threatens to get pulled back into the crime world he once ruled, a reluctant Doc masks a secret plan to kill Val as part of a deal he cut with a rival to settle an old score.

Stand Up Guys, directed by actor Fisher Stevens (Just a Kiss) from a script by newcomer Noah Heidle, wobbles between broad slapstick, raunchy comedy aimed at making the blue-haired crowd blush, and a more sincere examination of aging and male bonding.

The trio of actors manages to elevate the material by conveying an intriguing dynamic between their characters, but it’s still difficult to root for any of them. Arkin provides some energy with his appearance midway through, but Pacino and Walken are merely going through the paces, and film never offers much incentive to root for either one. They’re funny and endearing just because they’re old or slightly naughty? That’s not good enough.

Things improve in the final half, once they get down to business, but that’s not before Pacino is forced to rattle off stale jokes about erectile dysfunction, deliver cheesy pick-up lines to younger women, and wax poetic about the good old days. Walken’s character is more reserved and secretive, with dialogue that’s even more stilted.

The film moves at a geriatric pace to match the age of the protagonists and the target audience.


Rated R, 94 minutes.


  1. Cheryl says:

    I thought it was a touching, funny, and honest movie about aging, family, friendship, and the meaning of life–at least the meaning of life for two (three) older guys coming to grips with past choices.

    Other reviewers have given poor reviews too, but yours seems based less on the film’s merits than on ageist attitudes. I count 7 ageist remarks* in your short review, each of which I would debate with you but your comment form apparently doesn’t allow a longer response. Criticize the film for its dialogue or lighting or editing, not on your biases about what older characters can and should do in a film. It’s really just a cheap shot and no substitute for substantive review.

    Our viewing of any film depends on what the film brings to us, and what we bring to the film. In this case, I think the weaknesses you note in the film say more about what you brought to the film than what it had to offer.
    *see next comment (if I’m allowed to submit it)

  2. Cheryl says:

    Postscript re: ageist remarks:
    7 counts of ageism:
    “creaky gangster picture”–what purpose is served by the word creaky? In very few instances are any of the 3 characters truly impaired by their age; in fact they show incredible physical and mental agility throughout the film for characters of ANY age.

    “raunchy comedy aimed at making the blue-haired crowd blush”–Another gratuitous slam at older adults; there aren’t that ladies with actual blue hair anymore, but what’s the diff considering the various hair colors worn by young(er) people today? The phrase is just a cheap way to dismiss this particular age group and reduce them to a cliche. And blush? Seniors are not tittering old men and women who haven’t already heard every swear word and sex joke that exists. Don’t talk down to them.

    “funny and endearing just because they’re old or slightly naughty?”–I didn’t laugh at some of the dialogue because the actor delivering it is over 70; I laughed because the lines were funny. And there is nothing at all incongruous with any of the “naughtiness” (tame, really) in the film and the age of the actors/characters. Their age is not relevant to the raunchy parts; their age IS relevant to the reckoning each is having as his life comes to a close.

  3. BB says:

    I completely agree with Cheryl. I’m just a few years younger than the actors. I don’t have blue hair and I’m not creaky.
    I earned a doctorate degree two years ago, and I took up kick boxing last year. Needless to say, I’m not as sharp or in
    as good physical shape as these actors – and you probably aren’t either. You stereotypes of “senior citizens” is
    insulting and offensive. I hope when you get to be a “certain age”, you reread your article, and see if you consider
    yourself “old and slightly naughty”, and blushing at off color jokes.

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