Every year, there are movies released that are seen primarily on the basis of the actors involved. While a cast can certainly enhance mediocre material, they can't turn a sub-par script into gold. Unfortunately, this is the case for Stand Up Guys. The film features Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and Alan Arkin, who will be the main selling points. These three actors are fantastic when they're given a good piece of writing, but some of the projects they decide to star in are questionable. After Jack and Jill, Pacino is in desperate need of something decent, but this just isn't it. He's a talented man, but he hasn't showcased it very well lately. While this new motion picture isn't an absolute disaster, it should have been a lot better.
Val (Al Pacino) is released from prison while his friend, Doc (Christopher Walken), waits outside to pick him up. With Hirsch (Alan Arkin) present, the trio make up a group of aging con men. Doc begins by allowing Val to celebrate being out of jail by partying. The group decides to get together for one last hurrah before Doc is forced to take his last assignment. Due to some complications, he's being threatened that if he doesn't kill Val, then both of them will be murdered. Doc is extremely hesitant, so he decides to enjoy every moment he can with his best friend. There's no way out, but they won't go down without a fight.
The predictability factor that comes along with this plot is insanely high. You'll be able to correctly guess every twist and turn this film has to offer. Doc and the audience are the only ones who are aware of the situation of the hit placed on Val. Once he's out of prison, Doc is trying to treat his friend to anything that he wishes to do. The two go to bars, clubs, and a brothel, but they continue to commit crimes throughout the night. Through these scenes, Val realizes that they aren't very young anymore and their bodies can't handle those activities anymore. Writer Noah Haidle tries to utilize a lot of humor with jokes involving erections (or the lack thereof), drugs, and old age. Some of the comedy works, but the majority of it doesn't. Haidle's dialogue feels strained, as it tries way too hard to be funny. A few jokes had me chuckling, but there were several sequences with intentional humor where the screening room remained dead silent. The only fixing that could be done for Stand Up Guys is a complete rewrite. This script could have greatly benefited from either better humor or none at all.
Even with the disappointing dialogue, the real promise this film held was in the plot itself. The concept is solid and it offers some interesting characters. This feature's genuine moments are its biggest strengths. Every now and then, the humor is dropped and we're given honest scenes between the triad of friends. Whether they're reminiscing about their youth or discussing Doc's mission to kill Val, it's a lot better than the stale humor. These scenes manage to be sentimental without being mushy and help us understand these characters as people. Val, Doc, and Hirsch seem to be decent characters, which makes it irritating to see a mixed bag of "comedy" when you want more honest material. The ending provides one of the best scenes of the movie, as it gives these characters a little more room to breathe. It's long overdue and by the time it happens, it's too late. The ending is sudden and leaves viewers hanging, which is deeply dissatisfying. Even with Oscar-winner Fisher Stevens behind the camera, he couldn't save this let-down of a script.
If you end up seeing Stand Up Guys, it will probably be for the cast. Al Pacino provides a decent performance as Val. This isn't a big come-back, but it's a step-up from his latest projects. Christopher Walken is great as Doc. He's believable and delivers the charm that he is known to always bring to the silver screen. When the humor succeeds, it's due to his delivery. Alan Arkin isn't in the movie for very long, but he's believable as Hirsch. When they were younger, he was the get-away driver, but he hasn't driven a car for quite some time. With this film wanting to go the comedy route, Arkin could have been a goldmine in this role, but he isn't utilized very well. Seeing these three actors on screen together is an absolute joy. Julianna Margulies is good as Hirsch's daughter, Nina. She's a genuine character who audiences will be able to sympathize with. These performances won't win awards, but they make the material better than it would have been with a different cast.
Even with the amount of talent available in this film, it manages to be a disappointment. A screenplay can make or break a movie, and in this case, it delivered a critical blow that it couldn't recover from. The story is solid, but it goes in the exact direction a movie such as this should avoid. It isn't very funny and it handles its subject matter a bit too lightly. This picture's strongest scenes are during its more genuine moments, but they're few and far apart. With a short running time, it manages to feel rather long. Stand Up Guys is ultimately a very flawed and forgettable piece of cinema. It's worth a rental at best.