Film on DVD review: Stand Up Guys

posted at 9:31 am on May 26, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

I try to catch a new-release film each week to review for Sunday, but some weeks don’t make it easy.  The only three major releases were Fast and Furious 6, which probably would have required me to see 1 – 5, and The Hangover III, when the first was just passable enough to stand on its own.  Epic also hit the screens this week, but I may see that with my granddaughter next weekend.

Since nothing piqued my interest this week, I decided to take a look at new Blu-Ray/DVD releases and discovered Stand Up Guys had hit the stores earlier in the week.  I missed it at the box office on its release, but it got a decent rating from IMDB users (a 6.5), although only attracting a 37% Rotten Tomatoes rating.  (For the record, I saw Warm Bodies and The Hobbit instead at that time.)

The story puts a twist on the one-last-job and geriatric-buddy genres.  Val (Al Pacino) gets paroled, and his old partner and  best friend Doc (Christopher Walken) is there to pick him up.  That’s not all Doc needs to do with Val, though; their old crime boss Claphands (Mark Margolis) wants Val dead for getting his only son killed on a job that landed Val in prison 28 years ago, and wants Doc to do it to atone for his own screw-up.  Inexplicably, Claphands gives Doc until the next day to get the job done, which leaves Val and Doc a night to get together for one last fling with another old pal, Hirsch (Alan Arkin).  Will Doc take Val out on time, or will they come up with a Plan B?

Director Fisher Stevens aimed at a 1970s sensibility in terms of noir, grittiness, and ambiguity.  On style, he succeeds, especially on the ending, even though the other genre cliches tend to overwhelm his intent.  Brian Helgeland did better with the director’s cut (and original concept) on Payback, but Stevens still gets at least a B for style.  The performances are worthwhile, especially Pacino’s dissolute but still stand-up Val.  Pacino manages not to chew the scenery and delivers subtlety and nuance.  Walken sells the internal conflict well when confronted with the choice Claphands leaves him. Alan Arkin is funny but isn’t given much to do.

The problem with Stand Up Guys is the story. We’re supposed to believe that a crime boss would wait 28 years to seek his revenge, force the man’s partners to retire, and then the two of them just sit around for nearly 30 years to fulfill his orders.  We’re also supposed to believe that the same crime boss would allow Doc and Val almost 24 hours to conspire, and then send a couple of henchmen not once but twice to tell Doc to get on with it, without just taking care of business themselves.  On top of that, add in a ridiculous revenge subplot with Vanessa Ferlito, while repeatedly wasting time with another comedy subplot involving a brothel, with Lucy Punch as a madam (with a hairstyle and glasses right out of Charlie’s Angels — a nice touch, actually). Mostly, it’s just used as a way to make old-dude sex jokes.

It just doesn’t work.  That doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining; a film with Pacino, Walken, and Arkin would have to work pretty hard to fail entirely.  Pacino’s performance makes it worth a watch, but I’d wait for it to hit cable or Netflix streaming rather than buy the Blu-Ray/DVD in the stores or even pay-per-view.  I watched the DVD version, and it it’s remarkably low on features — just a couple of deleted scenes that add nothing at all to the experience, plus the usual commentary track and making-of features.This film could have used more stand-up guys in the script side, and one or two more in making the DVD worthwhile, too.

Stand Up Guys is rated R for lots of good reasons.  It’s not for children or teens.  It’s probably not for anyone outside of die-hard Pacino and Walken fans.

Also new on DVD this week:

  • Parker – Speaking of PaybackParker uses the same character on a different adventure that feels … a lot like the other, more stylish, and more original film.  My review is here; not a bad popcorn movie, but better when you’re not paying extra for it.
  • Side Effects – A better film than either of the above, but not without its flaws.  Rooney Mara delivers a bravura performance that is the crux of the film, but the ending may be too pat to be very satisfying.  I reviewed it here.

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Great movie I would watch it again.Nice to see some “tough” guys for a change instead of the steady stream of “metro boys” we get these days.

rodguy911 on May 26, 2013 at 9:57 AM

I saw Hating Breitbart last week. It was on On Demand but hidden (sort of) under the category “All Movies” (not under any of the new releases categories). It’ll put a smile on your face. He was proven right about so many things.

Man, I miss him.

Fallon on May 26, 2013 at 10:02 AM

This movie was so horrible. I was embarrassed for both lead actors. It was so beneath them to be in this. It sounds like some agents just wanted a good excuse to throw these guys into a movie together thinking it would be awesome.

johnnyboy on May 26, 2013 at 10:08 AM

i’ll wait for netflix streaming…thanks Ed

cmsinaz on May 26, 2013 at 10:34 AM

I couldn’t make it through the entire thing. Neither could my 58 y/o Dad, or my mom.

All 3, way paste their prime. Since this one was already incoherent, rambling, non-sense, I imagine the next one will be “Nursing Home Gangsters” where they’ve got a geriatric diaper racket.

preallocated on May 26, 2013 at 10:39 AM

Pacino used to be a first rate actor back in the Godfather movies, but I think he just went downhill from there. Remember his horrible Spanish accent in that cocaine movie? Oh boy was it bad.

scalleywag on May 26, 2013 at 10:42 AM

scalleywag on May 26, 2013 at 10:42 AM

That was Scarface, and you’re right — it’s overrated. But the worst was Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio playing his little sister.

Ed Morrissey on May 26, 2013 at 10:47 AM

Plus, the Natalie Wood case being ruled a homicide may give Walken his own reality show here soon, a role he probably does not want to star in.

HopeHeFails on May 26, 2013 at 10:58 AM

It sounds like some agents just wanted a good excuse to throw these guys into a movie together

johnnyboy on May 26, 2013 at 10:08 AM

There have been a lot of the “let’s get a bunch of classy old actors together and make a tough guy/action film” movies in the last decade or so. It’s a variation on the “make another one and increment the number – it’ll sell” franchise. It started with Tough Guys, I think. Then came Space Cowboys. The Expendables was another one off the top of my head. You could argue that Hamburger Hill was in that genre, though it is a stretch.

GWB on May 26, 2013 at 10:58 AM

Mastrantonio playing his little sister.

Ed Morrissey on May 26, 2013 at 10:47 AM

Yea, that was bad too.

scalleywag on May 26, 2013 at 11:05 AM

One of the best action movies was Heat. I could watch that over and over and over again. I think it was the only one I liked Ashley Judd in.

scalleywag on May 26, 2013 at 11:09 AM

Heat was as good as action movies get. Denero and Pachino were really well cast.Of course this is a very critical gang here…..

rodguy911 on May 26, 2013 at 11:53 AM

It looked terrible just from the previews and apparently it was. As good as Pacino and Walken are, they have both done alot of paycheck movies.

echosyst on May 26, 2013 at 12:20 PM

Superb review, Ed. Thanks for doing this each week. You make a lot of good, original points here (such as your one about the director’s attempt for a 1970s feel) about a film that I didn’t particularly like. Geezer schtick was my view.

There are so few conservatives who write movie reviews, and that’s a shame. Remember when Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” received a paltry 6% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes? I thought that was pretty disgusting. Bias, anyone?

You’re definitely helping to fill a cultural void by providing a conservative perspective. I hope you will keep in mind political and social subtext of the stories you examine, because that’s part of the void that needs filling. I also love reading what HotAir members have to say about films; the smackdowns of Star Trek last week were highly enjoyable (from my point of view, anyway, since I couldn’t stand that film both for it’s banal plot and liberal subtext).

As far as I know, there are only two other conservatives who write regular movie reviews: Debbie Schlussel on her blog and Nick Nolte over at Big Hollywood. 99% of all other reviewers from whatever source whether radio, TV, magazine or newspaper come with a corruptly partisan liberal perspective.

So thanks!

Burke on May 26, 2013 at 12:31 PM

Burke on May 26, 2013 at 12:31 PM

Thanks for the kind words, and the feedback. I probably should address political subtext a little more often when it’s significant. In my defense, Star Trek has such a long history of childlike Utopianism that I’ve built up a significant immunity to it over the last few decades. ;-)

Ed Morrissey on May 26, 2013 at 2:03 PM

Since ‘Before Midnight’ didn’t open in my town, I went to FNF-6.

The movies aren’t for everyone but it’s the rare action franchise that’s dramatically improved since its original. Some thought the franchise went off the tracks with ‘Tokyo Drift’ but that’s actually what improved it and turned it into the stellar series as it exists now. Yeah, if you’re the kind of person who can’t believe how bad of an actor Vin Diesel is or how impossible this or that stunt is, then nope, FNF isn’t for you. If you go to the theater to be entertained, well, get your FNF6 on.

There also exists a meta- aspect to the film as it relates to ‘Tokyo Drift.’ If you’re the kind of person that enjoys conspiracy theories about ‘The Shining’ or reading how ‘St. Elsewhere’ is the literal center of the televised universe, then FNF may appeal to you. Sung Kang is killed in 2006’s Tokyo Drift, yet his character was so popular that he’s appeared in each installment since. If you think this is sloppy scripting, you’d be wrong – the final shot in the film revisits Kang’s death and – ta-da – introduces none other than Jason Statham into the series, which will give us number 7 next summer. Wrapping into itself, it also means that all the films after Tokyo Drift took place before Tokyo Drift.

King B on May 26, 2013 at 2:06 PM

The last project where Walken shined was Fatboy Slim’s Weapon of Choice.

tom daschle concerned on May 26, 2013 at 5:39 PM

I guess Pacino and Walken needed some dosh. Sad. I’d kill myself before stooping to this level.

WhatSlushfund on May 26, 2013 at 11:49 PM

Mastrantonio playing his little sister.

Ed Morrissey on May 26, 2013 at 10:47 AM

Yea, that was bad too.

scalleywag on May 26, 2013 at 11:05 AM

Worst was Oliver Stone, who wrote it.

rickv404 on May 27, 2013 at 12:05 AM