Judge Gordon Sullivan has a hard-won reputation for lack of intensity.
They don't make 'em like they used to.
The twenty-first century has not been kind to Al Pacino. After going out of the twentieth on a high note—Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday—most of the films he's made since then are pretty forgettable. He retread his persona on Ocean's Thirteen, teamed up for a tragic reunion with Robert De Niro in Righteous Kill, and the less said about Gigli, the better. In contrast, his contemporary De Niro has largely done well for himself, starring in the odd forgettable thriller but largely stretching himself into comedic and more soft-spoken dramatic roles (see, for instance, Silver Linings Playbook). Pacino has been reluctant to give up his hard-won reputation for intensity; he couldn't even let his guard down for the goofy Dick Tracy. The tide might finally have turned with Stand Up Guys, which finds Pacino willing to poke fun at an iteration of the criminal/gangster type he's been playing for decades. Though the movie never quite lives up to his performance, fans of Pacino and company are going to want to give this one a spin.
Facts of the Case
Val (Al Pacino) has just been released from a twenty-seven-year stint in prison. There to meet him at the gate is his old pal Doc (Christopher Walken, The Deer Hunter). Doc promises Val a good time after his release, but Doc has other plans; he's been tasked with killing Val for his actions long ago. What follows is a wild night as Val and Doc struggle with what they have to do.
The best and worst part of Stand Up Guys is that it's trying to be three movies at once.
The first third or so of Stand Up Guys makes it seem like someone wanted to remake something like The Hangover but with older actors. Understandably, Val wants to "party" with his buddy Doc once he's out of prison. That leads us to a scene in a brothel. Of course, being of an advanced age, Val has trouble performing, so he and his criminal buddy break into a pharmacy, where Val proceeds to eat a handful of Viagra. Also unsurprisingly, that doesn't go well. It's a fairly obvious set of jokes—the kind we've been seeing raunchy comedies for at least a decade now—but it's amazing to see how well Pacino and Walken sell this material. I did not ever expect to hear Al Pacino make so many dick jokes in a movie.
The film's second third—once Alan Arkin is in the picture—becomes a kind of "one last job" semi-action film. Once the guys get together, they discover they have some wrongs to right, and so they set about doing it. This part isn't entirely convincing as an action sequence—the gents aren't as spry as they used to be, so it's hard to sell them as action heroes—but the film keeps up the comic tone from the first act which buoys the less convincing action moments.
All this segues into the third act, which tries to wring all the pathos it can out of the advancing age of its stars. We know almost from the film's first scene that Doc has to kill Val or he's dead himself. While that's not a situation most of us will find ourselves in, the film counts on our allegiance to both Val and Doc (as well as Pacino and Walken) to help us feel emotional over the loss (or potential loss) of both their lives. The film is finally about growing old, and how to do that gracefully under pressure—not just the pressure of death itself but also the pressures of family and responsibility.
With any other actors than Pacino and Walken (and, to a lesser extent, Arkin) in these roles, Stand Up Guys would be an entirely forgettable exercise in cheesy genre mechanics. However, Stand Up Guys wisely relies on the fact that we know these actors and have been watching them play gangster/criminal roles for going on forty years at this point. So, while the characters on the page are almost paper-thin, the actors bring their own cinematic histories to flesh out Val and Doc. The film ultimately seems as much about Pacino and Walken's history on screen as it seems to be about their characters.
The quality of the DVD certainly falls in the film's favor. The 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer is solid. Detail is strong, and colors are well saturated. Black levels are pretty consistent and deep, with no serious compression artifacts showing up. The 5.1 audio track is pretty dialogue heavy, but the surrounds get some good use during a few scenes. The dialogue is crisp and always easy to hear.
Extras kick off with a commentary by director Fisher Stevens, who discusses everything from the film's themes to stories from the production. A 12-minute making-of featurette includes behind the scenes footage, while another featurette talks to Jon Bon Jovi about his involvement with the film's soundtrack. Another short featurette compares the storyboards of the driving sequences to the finished product. Finally, a couple of deleted scenes are available, and there's an Ultraviolet digital copy for mobile devices.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The problem with Stand Up Guys is that it never quite coheres. Individual scenes can be amusing, or sad, or even exhilarating, but taken as a whole the movie doesn't add up to much. It's as though a screenwriter sat down and said "Okay, I've got Christopher Walken and Al Pacino. What have I always wanted to see them do?" From that, we get dick jokes from Pacino and painting watercolors from Walken. Again, individually they can be compelling scenes, but added together it was hard to care about anything that happened.
Part of the reason it's so hard to care is because there are no characters in Stand Up Guys. We know next to nothing about Val or Doc aside from the fact that they share a past, and Val and Doc have both been stand up guys in the face of their respective difficulties. There's no real arc to either of their experiences either. Neither character learns much over the course of the evening, and what does change seems random and/or already predestined not the result of the night's adventures.
Stand Up Guys should be a knockout: teaming up Walken and Pacino in a gangster-oriented flick, especially one with comedic tendencies, should be a no-brainer. Sadly, Stand Up Guys only works in fits and starts, never getting off the ground due to a seemingly random collection of scenes detracting from the dramatic (and comedic potential). It's not a total waste—fans of the actors will find something here to enjoy—but it feels far from the classic that the names involved would suggest. Given the strength of the disc, it's probably worth a rental to most.
Not guilty, but certainly could have been better.
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