The new mobster comedy Stand Up Guys needs a Grumpy Old Men-ectomy – stat.
Guys is two movies in one, a tale of aging gangsters trying to relive their glory days, and another geezer comedy about old dudes auditioning for a role in a Hangover sequel. In between lies a serio-comic tale worthy of its Oscar winning leads – Al Pacino and Christopher Walken with an assist from Alan Arkin.
Pacino is Val, a gangster who rejoins society after a lengthy time in the slammer. He’s greeted at the prison gate by Doc (Christopher Walken), a fellow thug who now spends his days capturing local landscapes on canvas.
Their reunion is both cold and comical.
Val: You look like shit.
Doc: You look worse.
And so Guys goes for the first 15 or so minutes, letting us appreciate two unique actors baring their age without qualifiers. Director Fisher Stevens captures the black comedy in a way that gives us credit for reading between the lines.
When Val tries to crassly pick up a young woman at a nightclub the film takes a turn. Yes, Val makes a nice comeback, showing even a 70-something Pacino can still make a young lady swoon. From there, the film settles for lowest common denominator gags, including an extended Viagra subplot which starts out badly and swiftly goes south.
Matters perk up when the two break their old getaway car driver Hirsch (Arkin) out of a nursing home. Together once more, the trio finds a new set of wheels for Hirsch to show off his skills. Arkin is so good at these sly roles, the kind that offer layers the screenplay neglects to reveal, that Stand Up Guys briefly steps back from the stale gag precipice.
Pacino and Walken flash fine chemistry, both of the comic and dramatic variety. Pacino doesn’t chew the scenery so much as nibble at it until it bows to his will. There’s something moving about seeing his stooped frame now, a reminder that even movie icons can’t keep Father Time at bay.
Walken is given a heavier storyline involving an emotional assignment not to be revealed here, but it doesn’t convey the power or pathos intended.
It’s inadvisable to take anything in Stand Up Guys too seriously, but it would be nice if our heroes considered the morality of their mobster ways. Better is the banter between the leads and a cheery waitress (Addison Timlin), a subplot which gives our antiheroes a more appropriate way to show their decency.
Stand Up Guys works best when it shelves the sexual gags and gunplay and just lets its aging stars talk, eat and reminisce about times gone by.