Stand Up Guys (Lionsgate, R)

standupguys 75As someone who makes movies, my greatest fear is that I will one day make a movie like Stand Up Guys.

 

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As someone who makes movies, my greatest fear is that I will one day make a movie like Stand Up Guys. Every individual element of this film is something that appeals directly to me, and yet, none of these elements work. I can totally see how someone would make this movie and not realize until too late that it was just not going to be good. The story involves Al Pacino’s Val being released from prison, where he has been for close to 30 years. The exact crime he committed is left vague, but in the process, he accidentally killed the son of a major mob boss. That boss has instructed Val’s best friend Doc (Christopher Walken) to kill Val by 10 a.m. the next day. Doc realizes that he has to do this, but before killing his friend, he decides to take him out for one last night and show him a great time. It’s kind of like The Last Detail—if The Last Detail was really awful.

Stand Up Guys is what Quentin Tarantino would call “a hang-out movie.” The term refers to films like Dazed and Confused, where it’s not so much about plot as just hanging out with the characters. I love hang-out movies, and I love movies like this that take place over the course of one night. The essential element to the success of these films is that you have to actually want to hang out with these characters. In theory, I could watch an entire miniseries of Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and Alan Arkin just hanging out.

I guess I’ll start with Arkin. This movie has been sold as a three-character piece, but in truth, Arkin is barely in the movie. He plays a character who you can tell was meant to be the crazy guy who comes in halfway through, steals the movie, and leaves the audience wanting more. Arkin has played that character many times, but here he seems lost, and he really doesn’t make much of an impression.

Christopher Walken has been coasting for years, simply playing who people think of as Christopher Walken. I felt he brought a surprising amount of pathos to his role in Seven Psychopaths, while still doing his Christopher Walken thing. He tries to do the same here, but the script is failing him. He comes off the best of the three leads, but he spends most of the movie looking very dour and just not having any fun.

And, of course, we have Al Pacino. I’m sure everyone involved saw this as a great role for him, but from my perspective, it seems like the director had some kind of grudge and spends the whole movie making him look terrible. He spends the whole movie in this baggy suit that looks two sizes too big. He’s got a gut that looks like a prosthetic, constantly sticking out. He’s a shorter man, and the camera seems to accentuate that fact rather than try to hide it. He looks old and feeble. An early plotline involves him suffering from erectile dysfunction, and after swallowing a handful of pills, he says, complete with dramatic camera push-in, “I think Mount Everest just moved into my pants.” It’s an embarrassing performance, and the fact that a director allowed his star (especially one with the gravitas of Al Pacino) to come off this bad is unacceptable.

Usually the joy of a movie like this is seeing the variety of adventures on which these characters go. I mentioned The Last Detail, which is a road movie in which the characters travel from town to town. Often movies set over the course of one night explore a place, like New York City or Austin or Vienna. The characters in Stand Up Guys seem trapped in about a four-block radius and they keep returning to the same places. Three times, they visit a brothel where the proprietor appears to be a rejected SNL character. They go to the same diner three times over the course of the night. They even end up at the same hospital twice. The same people are always there, implying that some of them are working 24-hour shifts.

Stand Up Guys is trying for that tricky balance between broad comedy and serious drama. It’s a tough tightrope to walk, and they fall off almost immediately. I can’t even begin to describe how tedious this movie was. I realized I was watching a bad movie early on, and spent most of the running time desperately hoping that it would get better. How can you have Al Pacino and Christopher Walken quoting Rowdy Roddy Piper’s bubblegum line from They Live and not even get a smile out of me? 

It never ceased to amaze me how close this was to a movie I would love, and yet the sheer ineptitude of the director and the generic shittiness of the script turned it into something terrible. | Sean Lass

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