Here’s Walken to save the day
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, February 1, 2013
“Stand Up Guys” stoops to conquer, shuffling along at a leisurely gait, hoping that audiences will have the time and patience to catch up with it. Those who do will be modestly rewarded, mostly by the chance to see Christopher Walken work his now-reliable magic with a script that veers wildly in quality and tone.
Much has been made of Walken’s collaboration with co-star Al Pacino in “Stand Up Guys,” and it’s true they have some touching moments as con men and best friends who share an eventful night on the scuzzy side of a nameless town. But the degree to which “Stand Up Guys” succeeds at all is completely dependent on Walken, who elevates everything around him by seemingly doing nothing at all.
Walken plays Doc, a retiree who spends his days painting sunrises, watching cable television, watching what he eats and waiting for his erstwhile partner in crime, Val (Pacino), to finish a 28-year prison sentence for a crime they committed together.
As “Stand Up Guys” opens, Val is just being released -- much the worse for wear. Announcing that he’s “ready to party,” Val urges Doc first to a brothel, then to a corner drugstore, where the two men are soon up to their old tricks, this time boosting Viagra and cholesterol medication and complaining about co-pays.
Such is the tussle between sentimentality and macho bravado that defines “Stand Up Guys,” which director Fisher Stevens adapted from an episodic, occasionally lyrical script by newcomer Noah Haidle. In the tradition of last year’s “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and “Hope Springs” and this year’s “Quartet” -- with a nod all the way back to “Cocoon” and “Grumpy Old Men” -- this film both makes fun of old age and seeks to valorize it, portraying its hunched, gone-to-seed geezers as capable of dash, elan and even danger.
In one of the film’s finest demonstrations of both -- and a sly echo of a similarly seductive passage in “Scent of a Woman” -- Pacino’s hapless Val leads a comely young nightclub customer in a steamy swing on the dance floor. (The film’s soundtrack, dominated by Jon Bon Jovi, and Lyle Workman’s musical score are among its strengths.) But that’s a rare genuine moment in a story that’s overstuffed with preposterous set pieces, whether it’s a high-speed car chase with the police, an impromptu midnight funeral or a bizarre encounter with a brutalized rape victim that Stevens decides to play with jarring, well-that-happened lightheartedness.
“Stand Up Guys” is graced with some nice supporting performances, most notably Lucy Punch as a kind, bespectacled madame; Julianna Margulies as a nurse in the emergency room Val visits when he overdoses on the aforementioned vaso-dilator (you can imagine the sight gag); and Alan Arkin, whose presence is pungent but all too brief.
Primarily, “Stand Up Guys” serves as scaffolding for Walken and Pacino to be Walken and Pacino together, a collaboration that finds both at their most scruffily appealing, even if Pacino’s slack-jawed, dese-dem-dose delivery palls after the first few minutes. It’s Walken who grounds every scene with the kind of watchful honesty that has become his brand in late-career.
Even when “Stand Up Guys” succumbs to slack pacing, schematic storytelling and the most cliche grand finale in cinematic history, he keeps it real.
Contains profanity, violence, brief drug use and sexual content.