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.