‘Stand Up Guys’ is a tale of vice and men

Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin and Al Pacino are the 'Stand Up Guys'
Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin and Al Pacino are the ‘Stand Up Guys’

If Stand Up Guys, the new light crime noir that marks Fisher Stevens’ second stab as a feature film director, were a person, it would be a voyeur. This is most certainly a film that likes to watch.

And who would blame him for that when one’s subjects are such mega-ton Oscar winners as Alan Arkin, Al Pacino, and Christopher Walken? Based on a script by Noah Haidle, Guys is so busy watching that it doesn’t stop to give much information away. We hardly know where it takes place, and would it not for references to Viagra, outfits and use of landlines make it so that the film could have easily occurred 30 or 35 years earlier than its modern setting. Pacino plays Val, a thug recently released from prison (how many times has Pacino now played an ex-con? I count roughly 14 billion) after serving a 28-year sentence for the unintended murder of the son of local crime boss Claphands (Mark Margolis, menacing underused). Claphands intends for Val to be killed as revenge for his son by Doc (Walken), Val’s best friend and (literal) partner in crime.

With Doc’s George to Val’s Lenny, the two embark on a day and night on the town, including several trips to a local brothel, to Doc’s favorite diner, a raid on a closed pharmacy, a couple of unplanned trips to a nearby hospital so Julianna Margulies can show up as a nurse, and even a cemetery. This film is more of a due than a trio; Guys is mostly a showpiece for the two actors, with Pacino exercising his frenetic side, although not inappropriately, and Walken in a sadder, more contemplative role that benefits from very careful modulation and restraint. Arkin, whose character, Hirsch, enters and exits the film pretty much exactly as you might predict, takes a (not literal) backseat to his two co-stars. Addison Timlin shines in the small but significant role of a waitress at Doc’s diner. (Which brings to mind a logistical question: how many times in the course of a night can these guys scarf down all that food and coffee?

The thrill of the movie is to sit back and watch these veterans do their thing. It’s a bittersweet victory lap, as age allows them to inject a greater gravitas into every moment but also tinges their scenes with a sense of finality. Decades ago these talented men represented a new guard of vitality and realism in acting. We’re now reminded me that all things, even the most illustrious and door-opening of careers, must come to an end. Guys aches with decay and loneliness, and even Doc, Hirsch, and Val know their days are numbered. Stevens lays on the pathos a bit too thick, though – these flawed guys are so sympathetic and omniscient that they begin to adopt the deity-like qualities we all want to attribute to their portrayers.

And as long as Guys remains full of hero worship, this star vehicle isn’t doing its job. It’s looking backward when it should be moving forward. Haidle’s script includes many moments that wink back to the past, including a joyride in a speeding car and Pacino dancing with a stranger in a bar, both of which call back to Martin Brest’s Scent of a Woman. Guys also loves quoting Rowdy Roddy Piper’s big line from John Carpenter’s They Live. And the film is consumed by tropes involving these randy men getting their rocks off – think Cocoon meets Porky’s.

And after a while, Guys’ jejune humor takes its toll. Pacino’s shamelessness begins to feel, well, shameful, especially as he swallows Viagra by the fistful, not unlike his Tony Montana once dove into a hill of cocaine. 40 years ago we were introduced to a young Pacino as Michael Corleone struggling with a gun. Now he’s popping Viagra to load a very different kind of pistol. Is that how Pacino really wants his career to climax?

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