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Stand Up Guys Review: Geriatric Gangsters Behaving Badly

Despite promoting itself like a meditation on age and a challenge to moral character, Stand Up Guys plays out more like an episodic comedy of errors – a city-trotting lark which sees aging gangsters Val (Al Pacino) and Doc (Christopher Walken) running into any number of odd characters, trouble, and ultimately, liberation. Though the script sells these individuals short on a number of occasions and resorts to rather childish encounters to pad the basic idea the film is shaped around, the veteran cast and some effective moments make it a rather breezy diversion.  You see in Stand Up Guys, after serving a 28-year prison stint, Pacino’s Val is finally released into the custody of his old partner Doc. The rub is that that job that put Val away resulted in the death of his bosses son and was not only left to rot in the joint but is tapped to be taken out the day of his freedom. And to punish Doc, who was also present at the botched job, he has been ordered to carry out the hit on his best friend before 10 a.m. Thus begins a binge of alcohol, girls, theft, assault, and everything in between as Doc treats Val to one last night of gleeful sin before the curtains are drawn. Throwing an interesting kink into the works is the fact that Doc becomes fully aware of what’s to come (he asks straight out) and becomes the driving mystery of Stand Up Guys. Will Doc be able to carry out the task after 30 years of stewing? Or will Val breath in enough freedom on that one night he decides to take matters into his own hands and kill before being killed? The various conversations and mini adventures that these two share will continually shift your opinion on how things will wind up. You'll also be forced to pick sides on who you want to live or die. Val is a hothead criminal but was a stand-up guy by serving his sentence and not ratting on anyone, whereas Doc has lead a quiet peaceful existence during that time but is still willing to carry out the task appointed to him. Unfortunately around the hour mark it becomes more and more clear that this film doesn’t have quiet the balls it starts out with and the climax turns out being both bizarre and out of place from what preceded it. Like that limp screenwriting choice, writer Noah Haidle fails to craft much in the way of enticing dialogue for these characters, which at its best is unremarkable and at its worst is capable of making Pacino and Walken seem like stilted amateurs. Add in 20 minutes worth of Viagra jokes and a side plot about a beaten woman in the trunk of a stolen car and you’ve got the work of an inexperienced scribe, even if his work comes off far more squeaky clean in the hands of the cast.  Alan Arkin also cameos as the third member of their crew, now confined to a nursing home hooked up to a respirator. Like always Arkin brings life to the thinly written character whose fate is obvious the moment Val and Doc come knocking. Also delighting in a few scenes is the utterly adorable Addison Timlin as a waitress at the local diner who may have some secrets of her own to share. Existing as yet another side plot that has no real barring on the overarching task at hand, the sweetness of that one in particular won me over.  As compelling drama or winning comedy, Stand Up Guys is utterly generic, winding up more as an old guy version of The Hangover than a challenging spin on the gangster flick or the hitman movie. Simultaneously tugging at both sides of the spectrum in terms of merit (script versus acting mainly) Stand Up Guys usually satisfies even when it baffles or enrages.


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