Despite Decent Moments, ‘Stand Up’ Doesn’t Fulfill Its Potential
Published: Sunday, February 3, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 3, 2013 18:02
“It’s just like the old days, isn’t it?”
“No, it’s better.”
Just like its main characters, Stand Up Guys is a film that simply cannot make up its mind about most anything.
The action begins when Doc (Christopher Walken) picks up his old partner Val (Al Pacino) from prison after 28 years in the joint. The two ex-con men (soon joined by a third) take a night out on the town. For Val, it may be his last, and his fate rests in the hands of his best friend, Doc.
Doc was retired by Claphands, his boss, 28 years ago, but not before he gave Doc one last job—to kill his best friend Val when he got out of prison. Val, as it turns out, was serving time for killing the Claphands’s only son in an apparent crossfire.
And so the two compadres in crime embark on one last night out on the town. It’s fun to watch the flamboyant Val give impassioned speeches, threaten guys more than half his age, and snort drugs at the bar. His character almost represents an older mesh of Tony Montana from Scarface and coach Tony D’Amato from Any Given Sunday. The ever versatile Walken gives a quiet, touching performance as Doc, who must at the end of the night shoot his best friend in the back of the head. Doc is Val’s reluctant partner who really just wants to paint the sunrise and drink tea at the local cafe.
Despite solid performances from both leading men, director Fisher Stevens’ second feature film plods along seemingly comedic and dramatic moments. Stevens won an Oscar as a producer for the documentary The Cove (2009) and has also appeared as an actor in numerous television shows throughout the years. Stevens’ direction gives his lead actors room to make an impressionable performance. Almost too much room, however, as the duo of Pacino and Walken cannot carry the film’s trudging pace and aimless plot.
Alan Arkin, most recently nominated for Best Supporting Actor in Oscar darling Argo, gives the film a shot of life when the original duo break their old wheel man Hirsch out of a nursing home. The Good Wife’s Julianna Margulies plays Arkin’s daughter, a steady nurse who makes several appearances in the gang’s adventure. Amidst a slew of familiar faces one fresh face did emerge. Addison Timlin plays an endearing, innocent character, Doc’s favorite waitress, at the cafe the trio frequent throughout the night. Timlin more than holds her own against the three acting legends with continuous cheerful banter. She brought some life to a screen that sorely needed it. Timlin may be a name to look out for.
But aside from a few truly poignant moments between Pacino, Walken, and Arkin, Stand Up Guys is a blip on the radar compared to anything the three have done before. Sure, Stand Up Guys may be reminiscent of the old days, but by no means is it better. The film catches itself in between questions of right and wrong, age and youth, without ever giving a real answer. The film also lacks a consistent tone. Stevens has made neither a comedy nor drama, but a film that urges the audience to laugh and cry. The audience rarely does either.
Maybe that’s the point. That growing old is slow and confusing, filled with moments of desperate comedy and quiet sadness that may not make a whole lot of sense. And if by making the film contradict itself, Stevens makes his point about growing old, then the film may accomplish what it intended. That also does not make the film a joy to watch at times.
Sure, the film contains a few fun and touching moments. It may be fun for fans to catch up with Pacino, Walken, and Arkin for a bit, but the film fails to deliver on its promise, what it could have been: a thoroughly entertaining and compelling retrospective on age, friendship, and death.