Rarely have the talents of Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and Alan Arkin been as crassly misused as they are in Stand Up Guys. All three have made some garbage—with a combined filmography of no less than 276 credited rolls, it could hardly have been avoided—but actor-turned-director Fisher Stevens has given the trio of screen legends something far more tantalizing than the chance to ham it up in a bad movie: the chance to ham it up in a bad movie together.
The three star as a trio of geriatric career crooks who embark on a last hurrah before their tickets get punched. For retired getaway driver Hirsch (Arkin), the grim reaper has cozied up in the form of emphysema; sadly, Arkin’s is a bit part, and he’s only onscreen long enough to justify a random high-speed car chase and an embarrassingly unfunny gag involving a pair of hookers.
Pacino and Walken get far more screen time as Val and Doc, respectively. When the movie opens, Val has just been released from prison after serving a 28-year sentence for his role in a botched heist. He never ratted out his partners—after all, Val is a “stand-up guy”—but his loyalty hardly matters to a crime boss named Claphands (Breaking Bad’s Mark Margolis), whose son was killed during the job by a stray bullet from Val’s gun. Claphands has hired Doc to execute Val; since Doc also happens to be Val’s best friend, the reluctant hitman wants to treat his doomed buddy to a night on the town before he puts a bullet between his eyes. Val knows all this, and, though he isn’t exactly happy about it, he’s resigned to his fate and plays along.
It might have been a fun setup—sort of an After Hours by way of Grumpy Old Men—but most of what follows is a dreadful misfire. Over the course of the night, Val and Doc go to a lot of places and do a lot of stuff—the two burglarize a pharmacy, rescue a pal from a nursing home, shoot some people, beat up some other people, steal a car, play vigilante with a gang of rapists, and rob a convenience-store clerk—but it’s all so disjointed and episodic that the movie itself never seems to go anywhere or do anything at all. Generic bad guys pop up every now and then to remind Doc of his grim obligation, but their appearances are too incidental to create any sense of tension; they’re just walking props sent for an occasional fistfight or shootout.
Stevens and freshman screenwriter Noah Haidle struggle with tone almost constantly, only occasionally managing to get it right as they veer from melancholy ruminations on old age and death to bawdy attempts at Hangover-style humor. An early trip to a brothel (which the guys will visit no less than three times between dusk and dawn) and an ensuing Viagra overdose set up a seemingly interminable string of old-man dick jokes that begins with Pacino’s declaration that “Mount Everest has moved into my pants” and then, amazingly, tumbles downhill from there.
While Stand Up Guys certainly never flirts with greatness, it does cast an occasional wanton glance in the direction of mildly charming, mostly thanks to the playful chemistry between Pacino and Walken. Pacino keeps the dial set to 11 with his over-the-top portrayal of the reckless Val, while Walken plays it low-key as the ex-con’s quiet, wistful pal. The two, who also appeared together in the 2003 bomb Gigli—could a pattern be emerging here?—play well off one another and seem to be having a good time, even when the audience isn’t. The movie also scores a few points with its supporting cast, which includes ER’s Julianna Margulies as a sympathetic nurse and Lucy Punch (Hot Fuzz) as a scene-stealing, squinty-eyed madam.
Unfortunately, most of that appeal is quickly squandered by clumsy attempts at black humor; when the guys find a naked and battered rape victim (Death Proof’s Vanessa Ferlito) tied up in the trunk of a car, for instance, the discovery is played for laughs. (One can only assume Haidle had burned through his entire arsenal of Viagra jokes.) For a movie that often indulges in pensive soliloquies about advancing age and impending death, Stand Up Guys is a remarkably juvenile affair.