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Movie Review: 'Stand Up Guys'

Stand up Guys

Starring: Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin

Directed by Fisher Stevens
Rated R


I would love to be able to get inside the mind of Al Pacino and find out if and when acting became a chore.   Judging by the roles he’s chosen over the past decade or so and the nature by which he phones in his performace, it would seem that acting has indeed become just that.  Is it simply a matter of a feeling that everything that you set out to accomplish is now complete?  Is it simply that your overhead is too much and you are now subjected to taking paycheck roles?   It’s a little sad to watch the greats become not so great anymore. 

But there is hope.  Robert De Niro found a reason to care in Silver Linings Playbook, so maybe it’s just a matter of getting the right script into Pacino’s hand.   Stand Up Guys, his new movie with Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin, on paper, seems like the movie that pull Pacino out of his malaise.  A movie about old friendships, regrets and reconciling your past; this could’ve been it.  But the movie is marred by no direction in tone or a story that doesn’t dig deep enough.   And while the performances by Walken, Arkin and Pacino show off why these guys are so revered, it still shows off a sluggish Pacino.  A guy, who maybe started to realize that Stand Up Guys wasn’t all that it could be and instead of trying to elevate the poor script problems , Pacino just showed up, did his job and collected his paycheck.  

Pacino plays Val, a man who after 28 years in prison (for taking the fall for a crime gone wrong) is released into the world.  His friend Doc (Chistopher Walken) is there waiting for him.  Doc, being the good friend that he is, takes Val out to do the things he wants to do.   But Doc is burdened with being the guy who has to end Val's life.  Val killed the only son of crime boss Claphands (Mark Margolis) and Claphands is man who holds a grudge. 

After a hospital visit (in a scene that is supposed to be played for laughs, but falls completely flat), Val and Doc run into Nina Hirsch (Julianna Marguiles) the daughter of their old partner in crime Hirsch (Alan Arkin).  Hirsch’s life is in a nursing home now so Doc and Val decide to bust him out for one last night of fun before the morning comes and decisions about life and ending life need to come to some sort of closure. 

The main problem with Stand up Guys, and it’s a problem that takes one right out of the movie, is its lack of focus.  It can’t decide if it wants to be the gangster version of Grumpy Old Men or the gangster version of Glengarry Glen Ross.  The movie should’ve picked the latter, as the more serious scenes worked better than the ones played for laughs.  But if you want to see a series of scenes with Pacino popping a fistful of Viagra then ending up in the hospital because of it, and as I mentioned before all played for laughs,  then this is your movie. 

The script for Stand Up Guys is another dark area.  It doesn’t build any sort of subtext for the characters and their pasts.  It tries with Doc but when the story realizes it left some hanging fruit out there, rushes  to a conclusion that is completely unsatisfying. 

But the trio of actors and their professionalism keep this movie from being a total failure.  Despite Pacino’s lack of enthusiasm,  this is still Al Pacino and watching bad Al Pacino is still better than most other so called great performances out there.  One has to wonder had this movie been written by David Mamet would it be a different outcome.  I’m guessing it would’ve been.  

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