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You gotta admit, casting Christopher Walken and Al Pacino as old school gangsters in the twilight of their careers is a bit of a cheat. How could you possibly go wrong? That’s stacking the deck right there, folks. You would have to be a real chump to screw up a movie starring Walken and Pacino as criminals well past their expiration date, on one last ride into the sunset. Turns out, these “old guys” still have a little pop left in their punches and more than a little pep in their steps.
Walken plays Doc, a retired gangster given one last assignment: kill his best friend Val (Pacino), who has just been paroled from prison after a nearly 3 decades stint. Both Doc and Val are, as the title indicates, stand up guys. When he went down the river, Val didn’t rat anyone out, something that Doc appreciates. Decades later and finally out, Val is looking to get back in the action, but quickly realizes that that’s no longer possible. Doc, with his myriad of conditions and pills for them, has already accepted this fate long ago. It takes Val some time, but he, too, eventually comes to terms with this new reality. After all, there’s only so many Viagra pills you can pop before you realize it’s just not the same.
And of course, there’s that whole “Doc must kill Val” thing hanging over both their heads. Val is no idiot, so he figures it out pretty early. What’s left, then? Doc promises to shoot Val in the head while he sleeps (after they get him a new suit, of course). With hours to kill (ahem), the two decide to spring their buddy Hirsch (Alan Arkin, “Argo”) from a retirement home. Hirsch is a former getaway driver, so slipping behind the wheels of a souped up ride that the boys booted off some local tough guys and going for a ride is just what the doctor ordered. Vigilante justice, multiple trips to the hospital, as well as to a brothel run by an amusingly accented Lucy Punch help to fill out their last night together. I guess you could call their last hurrah a bucket list for retired gangsters, but that would be kind of cheesy, and I hate the term “bucket list”.
Given the premise, you wouldn’t think there’s a lot of angles “Stand Up Guys” could play, but director Fisher Stevens (aka The Plague) and screenwriter Noah Haidle do manage to indulge in some tangents that were both fun and heartbreaking. There’s Doc’s relationship with a young waitress (Addison Timlin) at a diner he frequents; Val convincing a lovely young woman to dance with him despite a horribly awry first impression; and Hirsch’s last wish, a threesome. Former “ER” doc Julianne Margulies co-stars as an ER nurse with ties to the boys, and Vanessa Ferlito (“CSI: NY”) is excellent as a wronged woman who the boys discover locked in the trunk of a car.
Mark Margolis co-stars as the vengeful gangster who handed down Doc’s assignment, and if the film fails at anything, it’s fully fleshing out the criminal organization that is pitting Doc against Val. Claphands, as Margolis’ character is called, never makes for a particularly scary villain, and seems to only have two thugs running around the the city doing errands. You’d think a crimelord who can order one gangster to murder another (his best friend, to boot) would have more resources at hand, but not so much. Since this is a movie about gangsters (even old ones), there is violence in “Stand Up Guys”, and the language can get pretty salty. And I did mention that they visit a brothel more than once, right? Fortunately, the most skin you’ll see is the ladies in skimpy lingerie.
This is Val and Doc’s story, from the time Doc picks up Val outside of prison to their final stroll down the street together in their new suits. There’s great contrasting between the two former chums in the beginning — Doc, who has already accepted retirement, and Val, who just wants to “party”. “Stand Up Guys” works because Walken and Pacino are just so damn good in their roles. Watching a brash Pacino strut around with his belly hanging out, and Walken in his usual, well, calm Walken-ness, is like watching amazingly perfected works of art that have been fine-tuned to perfection over the years (and hundreds of movies). These guys have been doing this for so long, it’s almost unfair that Stevens and company managed to get not one, but both of them in the same movie. I have to admit, the ending was a bit abrupt, thought, but thinking it over, I found that I didn’t mind it all that much.
Fisher Stevens (director) / Noah Haidle (screenplay)
CAST: Al Pacino … Val
Christopher Walken … Doc
Alan Arkin … Hirsch
Julianna Margulies … Nina Hirsch
Mark Margolis … Claphands
Lucy Punch … Wendy
Addison Timlin … Alex
Vanessa Ferlito … Sylvia
Katheryn Winnick … Oxana