Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Stand Up Guys

This one is for all you old guys out there.

"Stand Up Guys" is the new movie starring Chistopher Walken, Al Pacino, and Alan Arkin, as the otherwise sublime poster garishly points out with labels on its silhouettes.  Its a movie with a pretty basic premise, mostly about a few old men enjoying a final fling before the inevitability of mortality takes them all.  Worn faces smiley remorsefully for the days when their skin was smooth, their eyes bright, and they starred in the greatest movies of the 1970s.  I figured it would be slow and reflective, even with the fact that it stars a group of defeated and retired mobsters.  Maybe something a little more intelligent, a little bit about life and friendship.  Just friends trying to figure it all out and get one last night together before a tragic deadline strikes the next morning.

Well, it was all that.  But it also had Al Pacino rushed into a hospital with a steel hard-on after fucking a Russian prostitute four times thanks to the rush of a fistful of Viagra.

Unfortunately, "Stand Up Guys" is a very mixed movie.  Overall, I'd say it was watchable and enjoyable, but it could have been far better if it wasn't so desperate to please everybody by pandering down.  This is an Old Dude movie, we don't need toilet humor, and yet there it is.  Most of the jokes come from Al Pacino snorting prescription medication, or breaking some other law, basically turning this into "The Hangover Part 67: We're Too Old For This Shit".  Its the sentimental portions that drive the movie for me, not the wacky antics.  Eventually the movie gets to the point that it seems to break all logic and reality, and not just in the insane stunts that Pacino and Walken pull.  After a deeply emotional and rather touching send-off of an ending, they felt the need to throw in a truly awful ending.  Maybe they wanted to be uplifting, maybe they just didn't want to make people sad, but instead they blew it, turning the movie into a comic book.  Worse, even though there's an incoming time limit, a classic technique of screenwriters to create tension, "Stand Up Guys" seems to flop around without a great deal of energy, and somehow never really gets going.

Luckily, "Stand Up Guys" does still feature some of the best actors of all time together, and what good moments it has are still worth it.  I'm glad to see Al Pacino in a movie that isn't "Jack and Jill".  Just the strength alone of Al Pacino working against Christopher Walken would be enough for a good movie.  You could have shoved these guys into a bustop and just had them shoot the breeze for an hour and a half, and it would have been great entertainment... and maybe "Stand Up Guys" would have been better if did exactly that.

The entire film takes place over a twenty-two hour period when Christopher Walken picks up Al Pacino from prison, after Pacino has spent the last twenty-eight years behind bars.  Together they used to be part of a team of crooks, until Pacino accidentally killed the son of the mob boss and got himself sent to jail.  He was still a Stand Up Guy and never once spoke a word of his crimes to anybody.  However, the mob boss has forgotten nothing and in order to get his revenge, he's ordered Christopher Walken to murder Al Pacino.  Walken is only able to negotiate a single night's reprieve for Pacino, and so he takes his friend out to what he knows will be their last night together before he has to kill him.  Its a great premise, giving these characters a long period by which they can work out their issues and deal with the inevitability of what needs to be done.  If you keep to the dramatic lines of inevitable tragedy, this could be great.  And well... they didn't.

Even with this great premise there's the problem of figuring out what the characters are supposed to do during the time they have left.  And the movie really never figures out where its going to go.  There are a few moderately funny escapades but few of them add up to anything.  Then the characters discover a surprisingly perky rape victim, and decide to beat up her attackers.  She then gets to torture them with a baseball bat in a bizarrely cartoony scene.  Its not to say the movie doesn't have energy, its just that it meanders.  They need something they desperately want to accomplish before the next morning, and there isn't such a thing.  It could fit the themes of confusion and disorientation of the characters, but I think that could have been accomplished in a more organic way.  And in a way that didn't screw up the tone.

There are some sweet moments in "Stand Up Guys" though.  Al Pacino has a tendency to inexplicably come with amazingly poetic speeches on the spot.  Christopher Walken has a great rapport with a perky waitress at his favorite diner.  Even at its silliest, when Alan Arken manages to seduce two prostitutes with his sexual prowess, I thought the movie mostly worked, and even was funny.  So if you really like Christopher Walken and Al Pacino, I'd recommend this one.  Though if not, you might want something that's clearly a lighthearted comedy or a serious drama.

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