This weekend, my movie class held the first bonus screening of the Spring Semester with “Stand Up Guys”, starring Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin.
Once a gangster gets released from prison, he’s reunited with an old colleague – but when a vengeful mob boss wants the colleague to murder his friend, will he be able to risk payback in order to save his buddy’s life?
After more than 20 years in prison, Val (Pacino) is finally released on probation – and there to greet him when he leaves is Doc (Walken), his best friend from the old days. Elated at seeing each other after all this time, they decide to go out for a bit of a party to celebrate Val’s freedom. But despite being in the company of an old pal, Doc is not exactly in a partying mood – Claphands (Mark Margolis), a gang leader with a score to settle, wants Val dead…and orders Doc to carry it out within the next 24 hours.
Doc’s conscience is now at odds with his survival instinct – does he murder his former partner in crime (literally) or let him live, only to have Claphands’ crew execute both of them? While he wrestles with this decision, the two men reminisce and suddenly realize that they are missing Hirsch (Arkin), their old getaway driver. In order to correct their oversight, they decide to visit Hirsch in the nursing home where he now resides and convince him to join them both in their modest celebration. Although they briefly relive the old days upon stealing a car and eluding the police after an elaborate chase with Hirsch at the wheel, all of their evening’s adventures prove too much for the sickly Hirsch and he expires behind the wheel with the car parked awaiting the return of Val and Doc.
Finally, Val is forced to come to terms with a truth that he already suspected – now that he’s free, Claphands won’t let him enjoy his newfound freedom for very long. Val is now determined to learn who Claphands will send after him to get the job done – unable to lie to his amigo, Doc confesses that Claphands has picked him to get the job done. Despite knowing that it will be his closest friend who will pull the trigger, the idea of Doc killing him still does not sit too well with Val – and understandably so. But with Doc admitting he’s finding it difficult to bring himself to finish off his crony, can Val persuade Doc to abandon the plan or will Doc find it necessary to take out his comrade in order to survive?
While the concept of seeing these three actors together as a team of septuagenarian cons trying to resurrect their glory days is appealing, its execution in “Stand Up Guys” is nothing special – which is why, unfortunately, I don’t feel comfortable recommending this mediocre movie. The screenplay, written by Noah Haidle, is challenged by the periodic suspension of disbelief the writer imposes upon his audience; when we are forced to ask questions about so many events in the movie (e.g., how those old guys bury a dead body by themselves, why no one has a cell phone, or the unrealistic effects of Viagra), the film ultimately loses any kind of credibility with its viewers.
Although “Stand Up Guys” tries to make many attempts at humor, I found that the jokes generally fell flat. Additionally, the casting of the movie is a little misleading – despite the fact that Alan Arkin appears to get equal billing to both Pacino and Walken, his role of Hirsch is very small and relatively insignificant to the main story. His brief appearance in the middle of the film makes you wonder about why the marketing of this motion picture is such that you are led to believe that Arkin has much more screen time than he really does.
Following the screening, our instructor interviewed the film’s director, Fisher Stevens. Stevens revealed that an attempt was made to produce this movie a few years ago, but it fell through when Pacino was cast as Doc and Walken cast as Val; eventually re-teaming, they switched roles and both actors felt more comfortable with the casting. One technical note that I found interesting was that Stevens said filmmakers have a new technology available to them for shooting car chase scenes – the method is called a Biscuit (and if you read the credits at the end of the flick, you’ll see that someone had the title of “Biscuit Driver”). The way it works is that the car in the chase scene is attached to the top of a flatbed and the actors are secured in the vehicle; then, a stunt driver with a crash helmet is put in a small vehicle beneath them and makes the car appear to perform all those crazy moves. According to Stevens, this allowed him to get much more shot coverage, using up to four cameras while shooting the chase scene.