Take Al Pacino, pair him with Christopher Walken, and then throw in Alan Arkin, and what do you have? A group of stand up guys!
STAND UP GUYS (2012) is a comedy-drama that had a very limited release when it came out last year. Although I had seen trailers for it at my local theater, it never opened in my neck of the woods, which is too bad because I really enjoyed STAND UP GUYS, having finally caught up with it on Blu-Ray the other day.
STAND UP GUYS opens with a convict named Val (Al Pacino) released from prison after serving a sentence of 28 years. Val is met at the door by his best friend Doc (Christopher Walken), and what makes this more than just a best buddy reunion, is that Doc has received orders from crime boss Claphands (Mark Margolis) to kill Val. You see, Claphands blames Val for the death of his son, and being the vindictive bastard that he is, he allows Val to serve out his 28 years in prison, and then on the day he’s released, orders his best friend to kill him. Doc doesn’t want to kill Val, but Claphands makes it clear that if Doc doesn’t do the job, he’ll end up dead, too.
Doc asks for more time, and Claphands gives him until 10:00 the next morning to kill Val. And this sets up the plot for the rest of the movie, as Val and Doc enjoy a night on the town together, reminiscing about old times and getting into mischief together once again.
Their overnight antics include a comic run-in with Viagra, a visit to the local brothel, and funniest of all a reunion with their former driver Hirsch (Alan Arkin), who’s ill and dying. For old time’s sake they steal a car and Hirsch drives them around town, outracing the police at one point. They also visit family to make amends, and help a woman Sylvia (Vanessa Ferlito) they find naked in the trunk of their stolen car get back at the men who raped her.
What makes things more interesting is that Val knows Doc has orders to kill him, and Doc knows he knows, yet both men choose to spend the evening together. As zero hour draws near, the tensions rise as Doc has to make his decision regarding what he’s going to do about Val.
The best part about STAND UP GUYS is the interplay between Al Pacino and Christopher Walken as Val and Doc. I could watch these guys all night, and as I watched this movie, I almost wished it was a television show so I could see these guys again. They really are stand up guys.
The screenplay by Noah Haidle includes hilariously raw dialogue that had me laughing out loud. The scenes in the brothel with Wendy (Lucy Punch) are priceless. And when Val and Doc break into a pharmacy for the Viagra that Val needs, they end up spending a longer time there because Doc decides to stock up on his prescription meds. “How much stuff are you on?” Val wants to know.
The comedy works not only because the dialogue is funny, but because these guys genuinely care for one another. STAND UP GUYS is a great friendship movie.
There are also some nice poignant moments, like when Val asks a woman to dance with him at a club. When he explains to her that all he wants to do is dance, without any monkey business, and if she dances with him, she’ll never have to see him again, it’s such a moving sincere moment. Pacino nails the emotions of a man who’d been in prison for nearly three decades, here having his first opportunity to hold a woman close again.
Some of the other serious scenes don’t work as well. The scenes where they seek out Hirsch’s daughter Nina (Julianna Marguiles) fall rather flat and seem rushed. The scenes with the young waitress Alex (Addison Timlin) who Doc visits regularly work better, but I figured out the revelation about this relationship beforehand.
Directed by actor Fisher Stevens, STAND UP GUYS is a tour de force for Pacino, Walken, and Arkin, and as such, Stevens wisely remains in the background and allows these powerhouse actors to strut their stuff.
As you would imagine, the performances here are topnotch, and Pacino and Walken share a genuine chemistry together. I truly believed they were lifelong friends. Throw Alan Arkin into the mix, and you’ve got a clinic on both comic and dramatic acting.
The supporting players are also very good. Lucy Punch is hilarious as Wendy, the woman who runs the brothel, and Addison Timlin is like a bright ray of sunshine as Alex, the young waitress who Doc visits regularly. Vanessa Ferlito makes her mark as Sylvia, the woman who gets to avenge the men who raped her, and only Julianna Marguiles doesn’t fare as well as Hirsch’s daughter Nina, mostly because it’s not the most memorable part.
Mark Margolis makes for an effective heavy as crime boss Claphands, even though it’s an underdeveloped character. Margolis spends his brief screen time screaming threats and looking angry, as opposed to actually doing things. Of course, Margolis does anger well, and if you’ve seen the TV show BREAKING BAD you know what I mean.
I wasn’t crazy about the ending. While I understood and completely bought into Doc’s decision at the end, what happens afterwards was somewhat of a letdown.
That being said, the weak ending in no way takes away from all that came before it, and as a result, I still found myself enjoying STAND UP GUYS a lot.
It’s all about friendship, and looking back at one’s life from one’s twilight years and having some buddies there looking back with you, helping you make sense of it all, the kinds of friends you can count on. In short, stand up guys.