Wanna chew gum or kick some ass?
I’m all out of gum …
That’s Al Pacino as Val asking, and Christopher Walken as Doc answering in the new buddy film, Stand Up Guys. Directed by Fisher Stevens with a screenplay by Noah Haidle, this film settles in somewhere between Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sunshine Boys.
While not nearly as geriatric or funny as The Sunshine Boys, and far from as robust and action-laden as Butch and Sundance, Stand Up Guys still finds a way to charm you. There’s a third wheel in this vehicle and that would be Alan Arkin, as Richard Hirsch, the erstwhile wheelman for Doc and Val. The film also moves along on the efforts of five women who all are rather good in their supporting roles. And there’s a villain, of course, but let’s have a bit of the story to get you involved and to introduce all of the main players.
Long ago (28 years ago) Val kept his mouth shut and went off to prison on charges of armed robbery and manslaughter. He never ratted out his criminal partners. He did the time and stayed silent. In the parlance, he is a stand up guy. He’s about to be paroled and waiting for him at the prison gates is Doc, who was and still is best friends with Val. They hug it out for a bit, and Val says, Did that just get weird? Doc says simply, Yes.
Now Doc has retired from a life of crime, but he has one last assignment. It seems that in the gunfight surrounding their failed robbery, a crime boss called Claphands (Mark Margolis has the role) insisted that his own son be involved in the heist. And this was the man who Val killed accidentally. You may recall that Margolis and Pacino played a memorable scene in Scarface where Pacino as Tony Montana refused to blow up a car carrying a woman and two children. Here’s the line: I told you, no fucking kids!
No, but you wouldn’t listen! You stupid fuck! Look at you now.
But Claphands has never gotten over the fact that Val and Doc were parties to his son’s death. So for all these years, Doc has been allowed to live – just so he could kill Val upon Val’s release from jail.
Well, according to Claphands’ command which goes: Kill him by 10 o’clock, in the AM, or you’re dead too, Doc figures there’s no rush. Val wants to party. However, Val’s first trip to the brothel did not get results. So a medical booster is needed. No problem, Doc still has his lock picks, so they break into a pharmacy.
After which, the results at the bordello are markedly different. As Val tell us, he went 4 times, and could have placed another notch on the bedpost, only Oxana was too sore. But taking Viagra by the fist full has its downside, so a trip to the emergency room is necessary.
Even after that, Val is still filled with vim and vigor, and other drugs which he snorted in a bar – Sorry sir, no drugs at the bar. If you want to do that – take it outside. Val – Oh these are prescription. I got the hypertension. So they decide to steal a car, then bust Richard Hirsch out of the nursing home facility. By this time, Val, who has been a hoodlum for a long time, and certainly knows the way things go, has gotten Doc to fess up. Let’s dispense with the welcome home bit, who’s gonna do it, asks Val. Doc tries to play dumb, but Val won’t let him off that easy, so Doc finally has to admit, It’s me.
The rest of the film is about friendship, loyalty, family ties, and going out with a bang – both literally and figuratively. Pacino has the most lines, and he does a fine job. He’s a killer and con man, and he handles this role with a good deal more finesse and soft-pedaling, so it comes out nothing like his take on the hoodlum Lefty Ruggierio in the film Donnie Brasco. He glides and swoops and rides the wind stream of Val’s character nearly effortlessly and naturally
Walken as Doc is a marvel to watch as well. But his performance is more internal. It seems that everything Doc says or does is measured or calculated. You won’t find better timing on-screen, than what you’ll see from Walken in this movie. Walken’s Doc is not about his acting chops. Rather it is all about the character. Which is how it should be. After all, he’s been allowed to live out his life for the sole purpose of ending Val’s life. Which is a weighty load to bear over the years. Walken’s expressive face has a bit more jowls than I remembered and both he and Pacino take us through the film as aged men, whose last sunsets are coming to an end and quickly rather than as actors who will work again.
Arkin plays and looks nothing like the Richard Hirsch, who we meet in a nursing home, where he’s in need of the assistance of an oxygen-tank. Once out of the nursing home, with his old friends, he looks like a new man. In fact, he can still handle a car better than any wheelman alive. He too will partake of the pleasures available in the brothel. He goes for two girls at once, including the house madam, Wendy (played by Lucy Punch). Oxana (below) is played by the winsome Katherine Winnick.
Julianna Margulies, appears as Hirsch’s daughter Nina. Now Nina just happens to be the nurse in the hospital ER where Doc takes Val so he won’t OD on Viagra. She’s in two scenes, and looks great. The fourth girl is Sylvia played by Vanessa Ferlito (below).
Now Sylvia was a victim of a gang rape, and she just happened to be tied up and gagged and in the trunk of the car Doc and Val stole. Sylvia remembers where she was when she was invited into car and offered a lift to where she needed to go. Doc and Val help her by getting the guys that raped her into a vulnerable position – some were shot, and some were manacled and tied up. Enter Sylvia with a baseball bat for payback.
However, stealing the film was Alex, a young and beautiful waitress who handled the overnight shift at the local diner. As she put it, she had trouble sleeping, so she preferred to work while most people slept. Addison Timlin (above) had the role as Alex, and you’ll readily understand why Doc was so charmed by her.
The film breaks no new ground for either the script nor Stevens direction. Oddly enough, the first time I ever saw Fisher Stevens was in 1989 when he played a ‘wunderkind’ murdering movie director who tried to match wits with Peter Falk’s Columbo. Now 24 years later he’s at the helm of this film. They go further than necessary with the Viagra jokes, and to be honest, the film doesn’t solicit many laughs.
However, it is far from the somber event that you night think a gangland execution might be. In fact it really is a feel good film. Far from perfectly directed, and all involved are working with a less than stellar script, yet the boys are back, and you will enjoy them. The film both opens and closes with the image of one of Doc’s paintings. We might call this painting Sunset Over the Sixth Street Bridge. Yes, it is Los Angeles’ iconic Sixth Street Bridge, but that aside, we really have no idea where we are. Nothing in the film is a visual clue about where all of the film occurs. I’d bet the script says only urban setting.
Suffice to say, that the film’s journey is from one sunset to another, which is really what life is about. There’s nothing special, magical, or unforgettable about the film, and even though they’ve run out of chewing gum, the journey we take over the film’s 93 minutes is definitely rewarding. Three point five out of five.
Below – check out the trailer.