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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Review: Stand Up Guys

Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and Alan Arkin Relive Their Glory Days

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: February 1, 2013 – U.S.
Rating: R
Genre: Comedy, Crime
Running Time: 95 minutes
Director: Fisher Stevens
Writer: Noah Haidle
Cast: Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, 
Alan Arkin, Julianna Margulies, 
Mark Margolis, Lucy Punch 

Al Pacino and Christopher Walken are old. "Stand Up Guys" works because it realizes that. This isn't one of those movies where aging actors futilely attempt to portray much younger men.

Val and Doc (Pacino and Walken) are tired and weathered. Their best days are clearly behind them. As the movie begins, Val – short for Valentine – is being released from prison after 28 years. Doc is there to pick him up. They're best buddies and criminal cohorts from the old days. It quickly becomes apparent what Doc is up to now. Without revealing anything, let's just say that he still has ties to the criminal world. His boss, referred to only as Claphands (Mark Margolis), isn't quite done with either of them just yet.

In a job gone wrong three decades before, Val took the fall for everyone because that's the kind of guy he is – a real stand up guy. The movie doles out those sorts of clich├ęs with regularity. They lend an intentional air of staleness to these two old codgers, whose bones seem to creak with every step they take.

Indeed, Val and Doc often show their age by using antiquated expressions such as "sonny boy" and "let's blow this pop stand." They also misquote "Rowdy" Roddy Piper's famous line from the movie "They Live" about chewing gum and kicking ass, as if it's the hippest thing in the world to say.

"Stand Up Guys" probably works best if you're 80 and on Viagra, but adults of any age should be able to find some level of humor in the material.

The entire film spans roughly one day – and Val and Doc manage to cram a lot into that 24-hour period. At first, they indulge in the types of things one would expect from a man who has just served a long prison sentence: hot food, hotter coffee, and not-so-hot women.

Most movies gloss over food, but not this one. Val and Doc eat several meals. Their restaurant of choice is an all-night diner. They're always served by Wendy (played by a cuter-than-pie Lucy Punch), who Doc sees every day and feels very close to. She's friendly to all the customers, but she wonders about Doc's life the most.

Along the way, Val and Doc decide to rescue an old associate of theirs, Hirsch (Alan Arkin), from another type of prison – a nursing home. He's on a respirator when they get there, but it doesn't take long for him to regain some lost energy and fall back into the mischievous ways of his younger self. They take a joyride in a stolen car with Hirsch behind the wheel.

Pacino and Walken inhabit their characters with an exhausted monotone. No matter what they're saying, their voices are always slow and controlled. That leads to some very funny scenes where they describe their outlandish criminal exploits with a straight face and complete lack of enthusiasm. They may as well be discussing the weather. Those moments mostly involve Hirsch's daughter, Nina (Julianna Margulies), who is a nurse. Another hilarious conversation involves Pacino's character and a priest at a confessional booth. Even career criminals sometimes feel the need to atone for their sins!

There's more than just silly hijinks going on here, though. By the time it's all said and done, you'll find yourself caring deeply about the fates of Val and Doc.

On the surface, "Stand Up Guys" is a comedy about two washed-up criminals who have a great night out on the town – and it works solidly on that level. But what it's really about is the decisions we make in life, the regrets that come with age, and the fact that it's never too late to make different choices.   

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