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.