Like the set-up for a horrifically bad joke, Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and Alan Arkin walk onto a movie set…and do as little as possible in Fisher Stevens’ Stand Up Guys. Playing former criminals, reunited for one last night of shenanigans, this fine permutation of the AARP All-Stars lazily waltz through even lazier writing, offering nothing to expand their respective resumés, nor risking anything to tarnish them. The most painless way for these actors to fulfill a contract obligation, the film is consequently an extremely painful experience for audiences, one in which boredom permeates each scene and the phrase “missed opportunity” enters the mind early and often.
Falsely assuming that an appealing cast is sufficient grounds for a film, regardless of what is done or said, Stand Up Guys takes its sweet time to introduce a central drama. In that span, the film has newly-paroled Val (Pacino) and his best friend Doc (Walken) vacuously pal around and do things seemingly at random as part of Val’s impulsive reintroduction to society. Visiting a brothel, creeping out women at a bar, and eating an inordinate amount of food at Doc’s favorite diner, the Oscar winners recite bland dialogue that feels made up on the spot and amounts to little.
Milking the star power to the last ounce, the fumes of Pacino’s and Walken’s respective celebrities inspire some tentative early chuckles under the hope that the film will soon find its footing. But as the minutes pile up and the promise for one of them to do something remarkable remains unfulfilled, the likelihood of an easy (and possibly mandatory) payday increasingly seems like the lone reason for such a sparkling union. So committed to nothingness is rookie screenwriter Noah Haidle, in fact, that once local mobster Claphands’ (Mark Margolis) vengeful kill-or-be-killed assignment for Doc to snuff Val is revealed, the sudden sense of purpose feels glaringly forced. True to the established style, however, rather than build on this potential game changer, the news is shrugged off in the name of more erratic reveling and the film blindly trudges onward to further obscurity.
Consistent with the headliners’ ill-written, passionlessly performed turns, holding out for Arkin’s saving grace likewise proves a hoax. Absent until the film’s second half, the moment his Hirsch is sprung from his nursing home’s oxygen-tank haze, only to regain his getaway driver’s skills minutes later, the film officially forgoes any hope of competent storytelling. With the resulting purposeless car chase to nowhere serving as an apt metaphor for the project as a whole, Stand Up Guys makes it clear that ambition and direction lie elsewhere. Considering the revered talent wasted in the process, that’s call for a cold shoulder.
Rated R for language, sexual content, violence and brief drug use.
Stand Up Guys is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.