It’s boring, hacky, pandering, maudlin, pleased with itself, and vacant of almost any believable human moment, but at least it’s also stupendously sexist.
This could have been a good movie, that’s what kills me, and not just because it’s got good actors in it because, frankly, Pacino misses the mark by quite a lot in this. The premise of the film has real pathos, but its execution, both in Noah Haidle’s screenplay and via actor-cum-director Fisher Stevens (who co-directed the excellent documentary Crazy Love), is so misjudged that I started to feel an irrational contempt for the filmmakers 30 minutes in. A certain Jonestown-magnitude groupthink can be the only explanation for this many consecutive bad decisions.
It’s all kept kind of vague, but the gist of it is that 20-some years ago a heist went bad when the son of a powerful crime lord, Claphands (Mark Margolis) lost his nerve and started shooting people. In the chaos that ensued the son was accidentally shot dead by one of his heist mates, Val (Al Pacino). The other two members of the crew, Doc (Christopher Walken), and Hirsch (Alan Arkin) don’t go to jail because Val takes the fall for all of them. Claphands, however, is livid, and lets Val serve his entire sentence before forcing Doc to execute him the day Val gets released. The movie, then, is Val’s last night on earth, in which three old friends unite to have an adventure, just like they had in the good ol’ days, before Doc has to put one in his BFF’s brain. This has the potential to be a powerful story, but we’re robbed of it.
Here are just some of the movie’s problems.
First: the women. So, you know how everywhere you go these days there’s always these young men with rock hard abs and chiseled features and they’ve got these sassy senses of humor and street smarts and they’re tough as nails but good at heart and all they ever want to do is have as much sex as they possibly can can with 78-year-old women? Well, Stand Up Guys takes a bold, progressive stance and reverses those icky gender dynamics. I think the filmmakers intended it to be funny that a prostitute and the madame of a brothel, after having sex with Alan Arkin for several hours, are so impressed with his cocksmanship that they instantly fall madly in love with him. Except it’s not funny, it’s gross, and it’s pathetic that the filmmakers thought it would be convincing.
It’s also not funny or convincing when Al Pacino announces to a table full of beautiful, polite, well-dressed young women minding their own business that he has a huge erection and would like to insert it into any or all of them. He first gets a drink thrown in his face, but then somehow manages to “charm” one of them into slow dancing with him. No, it’s not funny watching Pacino grope an ingenue for a couple minutes. Revolting is a better word… and that’s not even getting into the naked, gang-raped girl they find tied up in the trunk of a car, or the sexy nurse (Julianna Margulies!), or the sexy waitress, and so on.
Despite its grim setup, Stand Up Guys goes whole hog for a comedic tone at seemingly random moments. Aside from the abrupt shift in tone, there’s another slight problem with that structure: the jokes are awful, and the repartee is wooden. This would be bad enough, but at other equally random intervals, the movie tries to shove poorly-scripted, totally unearned blasts of schlocky mawkishness down our throats. Stand Up Guys can’t decide if it wants to be a terrible comedy, a terrible melodrama, or a terrible crime story.
As Val says toward the end of the film, when his execution is ostensibly nigh, “Time waits for no man.” Well, I can tell you it certainly felt like time was on lock-down when I subjected myself to this tripe.