Watching “Stand Up Guys” feels akin to seeing an old, favorite rock band getting back together for one last gig after decades apart. They’re not as energetic as they once were, their vocals aren’t as powerful, but an obvious camaraderie still exists as well as a touch of rebellion.
Christopher Walken, Al Pacino and Alan Arkin are all performing their greatest hits in this con-man comedy, albeit within dialed-down versions of their familiar screen personae. These no longer go to 11; Pacino mercifully isn’t in full-on “Hooah!” mode. But there’s enough humor and tenderness in Fisher Stevens’ film to make it a passably enjoyable experience for the most part.
Some plot twists toward the end do feel too convenient and contrived, however. The real joys of Noah Haidle’s script come from the moments that aren’t so forced, when these veteran actors are talking, catching up and bouncing off each other. The three have never appeared in a movie together before, yet they effortlessly elevate what might have been some corny material just by showing up and being such pros.
At the film’s start, Pacino’s character, Val, has just been released from prison after 28 years for refusing to give up one of his associates during a shoot-out – hence the title. Val’s sacrifice makes him a stand-up guy. His best friend, Doc (Walken), is there to pick him up for a wild night on the town, which may also be Val’s last night; he’s still a target of a vengeful mobster despite his newfound freedom (and his age).
The two meander around Los Angeles, looking for some trouble to get into, complete with the kind of clunky jokes about Viagra and new-fangled keyless car ignitions that you might expect. They also pay a couple of visits to an awkwardly cast Lucy Punch as a woman who runs a brothel out of her home.
But things pick up significantly once they decide to bust their old pal, Hirsch (Arkin), out of the retirement home in the middle of the night for some spontaneous adventures. They actively seek out danger as a means of fending off death.
Walken is quiet, still and absurdly halting – the well-armed brains of the operation but with a kind heart. Pacino is the wild man who still wants to party but there’s also a vulnerability to him that’s appealing. And there isn’t nearly enough of Arkin, the dryly gruff former getaway driver who finds he still has some skills left when he’s called upon to use them.
Watching “Stand Up Guys” made me want to watch a documentary instead of Walken, Pacino and Arkin driving around the city, sharing stories, comparing notes, laughing and riffing in the dead of night.
“Stand Up Guys,” a Lionsgate release, is rated R for language, sexual content, violence and brief drug use. Running time: 95 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.