MOVIE REVIEW: Acting legends make the most out of 'Stand Up Guys'



3 stars out of 4


This film image released by Roadside Attractions shows, from left, Christopher Walken as Doc, Alan Arkin as Hirsch, and Al Pacino as Val in a scene from "Stand Up Guys." (AP Photo/Roadside Attractions, Saeed Adyani)

Depending on your age and level of fondness for mob flicks, latent frat-boy humor and gunplay, "Stand Up Guys" will either be a pleasant walk down memory lane or a complete waste of time. It offers little in the way of middle ground.

Teaming together three highly respected Oscar-winning seniors -- all of whom made their mark in one form or another of the crime genre -- in a character-driven action comedy seems like a no-lose proposition, yet shaky direction and a derivative screenplay makes it hard for these old pros to fully deliver the goods.

Taking place over the course of 24 hours, "Stand Up Guys" takes nearly the entirety of its breezy 94 minutes to unravel its bare-bones screenplay, which is hard to do in a movie of this length. The trouble is that rookie writer Noah Haidle depends too much on useless Tarantino-esque filler and bits from other like-minded films, and journeyman actor-turned part-time director Fisher Stevens is completely incapable of dramatic or comic pacing.

So, why give it such a high recommendation? It's the acting. It would be beyond impossible to make a bad movie starring Al Pacino, Christopher Walken AND Alan Arkin. You can tell each and every scene contains a whole bunch of improvisation; these men are great actors because they know how to listen and react -- two things most actors can't fathom, much less pull off. The secret to acting isn't what to say but what not to say.

The movie opens with Val (Pacino) being released from prison after serving 28 years. He's greeted at the gates by Doc (Walken), his only friend and former partner in crime who has been retired ever since Val entered the slammer. As most men would do after being locked-up for three decades, Val wants to par-tay and Doc does everything within his power to accommodate him.

There are multiple trips to a brothel, lots of rich foods, booze and copious amounts of stolen pharmaceutical drugs. Why Doc would risk going to jail after being on the straight and narrow for so long doesn't make sense at the onset but is completely understandable in hindsight. He's in an untenable situation and decides to choose the lesser and more honorable of two evils. These two men love each other, although neither of them feels at all comfortable saying so.

The wait for the arrival of third-wheel Hirsch (Arkin) takes far too long and his departure comes far too soon. Not nearly as famous as his higher-profile co-stars, Arkin is one of the most underrated, underappreciated and least predictable actors of his generation. It's hard to out-deadpan guys like Pacino and Walken, but Arkin does so without seeming to even try.

Although roughly 80 percent of the film is a men-only affair, four women deliver brief yet crucial supporting performances. Sure to please fans of the "E.R." TV series, Julianna Margulies appears as a nurse and the daughter of one of the leads. Currently the lead in the hit series "The Good Wife," Margulies really didn't have to take on such a minor role in such a low budget production, but by doing so indicates what any actor would consider an honor: working alongside three legends.

British cult favorite Lucy Punch as a Madam and Vanessa Ferlito as a kidnap victim also shine in their (some may say thankless) roles. The finest of the four ladies is relative unknown Addison Timlin as Alex, a waitress who works the graveyard shift at a diner frequented daily by Doc. Alex's ultimate role in the big picture isn't revealed until late in the third act and it marks the movie's most heartwarming -- and heartbreaking moment.

While viewers will either love or hate the film, it's likely no one will be happy with the non-ending the filmmakers deliver. With a slow and steady build-up that borders on nerve-wracking, the final scene is a wishy-washy cop-out that robs both viewers and the story of sufficient (or even moderate) closure.

"Stand Up Guys" mostly wastes a golden opportunity to take full advantage of a rare and esteemed ensemble cast but the grumpy old bad men make the most of it. (Roadside Attractions)