Val (Al Pacino) gets out of prison after 28 years and is met by Doc (Christopher Walken), an old friend and former criminal associate. They catch up and Val wants to celebrate his release, which eventually involves robbing a pharmacy, finding hookers, stealing a car, and spring another of their old pals, Hirsch (Alan Arkin), from his old folks home so they can share one last hurrah.
However there’s one big wrinkle. Before he was locked up, Val accidentally shot the son of a major criminal. That had guy has been waiting all this time to get his revenge and has ordered Doc to kill Val before the following morning.
Stand Up Guys is like two completely different movies that have been slammed together with little thought about how they would clash. There’s a rather sweet, nostalgic movie about friendship, aging, seeking redemption and the need to continue to feel alive even in your twilight years. Then there’s a completely separate movie that thinks it’s The Hangover, with Val getting an persistent erection that only a needle can cure and snorting prescription medication.
If the movie could smoothly move from one extreme to the other it might have worked, but it doesn’t. Instead it flings itself around with such abandon it’s difficult to keep up. It might also have been better if they’d had worse actors. In quiet, personal scenes Walken, Pacino and Arkin really draw you in and make you remember just what great actors they are, but then the film whips of to something silly, illogical and audience insulting (some things are almost breathtaking in what it assumes the viewer will swallow).
It’s really frustrating as the non-Hangover parts of the film are great, to the point where if it could have been just that, I wouldn’t have been shocked if people were wondering about Oscars for Walken and Pacino. There’s a power to the story of two old friends who haven’t seen each other for decades and only have one night together, with both being aware that one of them is on borrowed time. When it’s allowed to it handles things with a quiet power that’s actually quite moving. But then Al Pacino has to go to hospital because of his Viagra-overdose erection, or a daughter who’s literally just discovered her father has died agrees they should go off in the middle of the night to bury him.
I spent much of the film rolling my eyes, which is a tragic shame because after the film was over there were aspects of it that lingered in my mind. Walken in particular really works hard to bring out the conflicts of aging and the need to feel connected no matter what mistakes you’ve made in the past, while Pacino does well dealing with the power of friendships. But then there are the jokes that are almost painful to watch and turn this from something memorable into something mismatched and dumb.
Overall Verdict: There’s about 50 minutes of a well-made, potentially powerful film about aging and friendship that reminds you of how good Pacino and Walken are. Unfortunately mixed into that are sub-Hangover jokes and stupidity that don’t just clash but are actively dumb.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac