The casual movie fan overseas that is not die-hard into American films, especially from the 70’s, simply will not get Stand Up Guys. Yes, it’s mildly funny at certain moments, but the fact is, most of the humor relies on the audience affectionately recalling the heyday of its three stars, Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and Alan Arkin. The three men are known best for their films (mostly from the 70’s) where they played tough guys, cops, and gangsters.
Here, they play old gangsters, reuniting for a last hurrah. As Val (Al Pacino) gets released from prison, his only real friend in the world, Doc (Christopher Walken) is there to greet him, and he announces “I’m ready to party.” From there, the men go on any all-night odyssey, eventually tracking down their old wheelman Hirsch (Alan Arkin), but make no mistake, this is a Walken-Pacino buddy movie through and through. Arkin’s role is relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, but his character has an emotional weight that brings the characters together, so I see why he’s there.
The catch to the celebration of Val’s release is that Doc has been ordered by Claphands (Mark Margolis) to kill Val upon his release for prison. Claphands is their old boss, and the reason Val is in prison is because of an incident where he ended up charged with murder and Claphands’ only son dead. So after serving 38 years in prison for his crime, Claphands wants Val dead. The fact that Val was allowed to live only until he got out of prison is supposed to be his ultimate punishment, and I must say it’s a pretty dire one.
Only Doc is Val’s best friend, and he doesn’t have a lot of motivation to do the deed, although he knows he must. Although Doc’s daughter wants no association with him, Doc has managed to track down an important family member, and when he says he doesn’t want to kill Val, Claphands threatens the only other person that Doc holds dear. So instead of getting on with it, he lets Val have his fun, and they do all kinds of wacky things that only old guys can get away with, because they’re old and they don’t care.
They hit the bar, the brothel, steal a car, help a woman (Vanessa Ferlito) in need, and rescue Hirsch from his life of boredom and doctors. The whole movie is really a statement on the fact that these guys were once in their prime (the actors and the characters) and now they are going to enjoy their last years the best they can, because they might not have many more.
For what it is, the movie is entertaining. It’s predictable, yes, but anyone watching it will be doing so because they are fans of the actors involved, not because they really must know how the story turns out. It is made apparent that these guys are wise guys, but they are so far along in age, they really do very little to show who they used to be, instead coming off as charming old men. There is a different movie in these characters somewhere, about the regrets, or lack of regret, in an aging mobster. However, this is not that movie, it’s a light-hearted comedy about some old buddies. However, the movie earns it’s R-rating with language, sexual humor, and a bit of out-of-place violence.
It’s interesting, because most violent movies are edited down to appeal to the wider PG-13 demographic, however, this film seems to be left alone if only for the simple fact that younger audiences just won’t care to see it no matter the rating. It’s not Freebie and the Bean, The Deer Hunter, or The Godfather, but it’s for people that remember those movies very fondly, which is outside the typical Friday/Saturday night demographic. I’m curious how this movie does at the box office, but at the same time, I’m sure it was made for relatively cheap so it won’t matter. The names will eventually draw enough to make it profitable.
The last main point I’ll made is that the ending is ambiguous, and on purpose. I see the reasons they chose this ending, but really, it felt like a sanitized version of a much darker ending. Instead of acceptable ambiguity (as in, they had a reason to do it) the movie just ends, like they ran out of money, or the filmmakers couldn’t agree with the studio on which ending to use, so they just roll some credits at a certain point and that’s it. It’s odd, and although there are two resolutions out of three major plot points, the entire film revolves around the main plot point, so to have it unsatisfied is kind of pointless. Still, director Fisher Stevens (the villain from Hackers) had fun making the film I’m sure, and it translates to an entertaining, if highly imperfect, movie. The film coasts on charm, and doesn’t worry about the loose plot holes or non-ending. For that, I give it a pass, if only because I’m a big fan of all the actors involved (even if their best days are clearly behind them), and because they made comedian Bill Burr a complete asshole. However, I must point out that Walken plays a similar role in Seven Psychopaths, but to much better effect, mainly because that was a much better movie. No matter, this isn’t a bad way to kill 90 minutes.