Blu-ray and DVDMovies


Cinema is forever cyclical. The temptation has always existed, and always will, to construct movies around the super-cast of a few aging legendary actors thrown into some amalgam of a ‘past their prime but still badass’ plot. (See: Red, The Expendables, etc.) Some turn out pretty damn good and others are ill-planned embarrassments. Stand Up Guys, I’m pleased to report, leans closer to the former, standing on its own merits as a pretty enjoyable buddy flick.

Stand Up Guys stars Al Pacino as Val, an ex-gangster and former trusted lieutenant of crime boss Claphands (Breaking Bad’s Mark Margolis). Val was caught in a shootout 28 years ago that resulted in the accidental death of Claphands’ son. Upon capture, Val refused to give up any members of Claphands’ gang and was sentenced to 28 years in prison. The film opens as Val is released from prison, greeted by old friend and associate Doc (Christopher Walken). The reunion is awkward, especially for Doc, who has been ordered by Claphands to kill Val by 10 a.m. the next morning or be killed himself, despite Val being a ‘stand up guy’ and not rolling over upon his arrest.

What follows is a night of wild debauchery. Doc takes Val to a brothel, one of their old haunts, but Val can’t perform. The pair break into a local pharmacy and Val loads up on Viagra so his return engagement is more successful. Unfortunately for the old gangster, the combination of Viagra and snorting stolen hypertension medication lands him in the hospital, where they meet the daughter (Julianna Margulies) of another old friend, Hirsch (Alan Arkin). Once Val is released from the hospital, the duo spirits Hirsch out of his nursing home, upon which the newly reformed trio steals a car, rescues a kidnap victim, bustes in on the kidnappers, revisits the brothel, and generally raises hell.

But Val’s no dummy. Over a late night steak, he tells Doc that he knows his time is up, asking if he’s the man who was sent to kill him. Doc sadly admits that he is and an understanding Val resigns himself to a rapidly-approaching demise. At 9:30 a.m., Doc and Val break into a men’s clothing store to steal a couple of new suits for the occasion. And then… well, I won’t spoil it for you.

Stand Up Guys is an entertaining ride, but by no means perfect. The script is a bit wobbly, with several wonderful stretches of dialogue counteracted by several leaden lines that awkwardly trip up the flow of a few scenes. The aforementioned subplot involving the kidnap victim doesn’t fit with the rest of the film and only seems to serve the purpose of showing that Val and Doc are, indeed, stand up guys who may break the law but are still good people. The eleventh hour reveal that a couple of Claphands’ stooges have been shadowing Doc throughout the evening to make sure he gets the job done is handled too lightly and should have been given a little more screen time (and no, bringing that up doesn’t give away the ending). Finally, another subplot between Walken’s Doc and his granddaughter also feels a touch shoehorned in and distracts a bit from the main attraction.

These flaws aside, I enjoyed Stand Up Guys a lot and was surprised at how emotionally invested I became in the characters in spite of the uneven script. Arkin is very funny as the sickly but game Hirsch, although his role is a fairly small one, all things considered. Pacino and Walken truly shine and I think it’s safe to say it’s some of the best work both have done in a while. The two have excellent screen chemistry, with Pacino’s manic fast-talker routine playing excellently off of Walken’s quieter deadpan performance. A snappier script would have really made this a movie to remember, but sometimes a movie’s principal players can yank a movie above its faults and make it something more than it might have otherwise been. Stand Up Guys is, I think, such a movie. Walken, Pacino, and Arkin are so outstanding at their craft that I was not only willing, but happy, to just enjoy the ride.

The DVD special features are of the usual stripe. A director commentary is included (a pity there was no commentary from any of the main cast, as that would have been fun to listen to), an obligatory ‘making-of’ featurette, a mini-doc on the making of an original song by Jon Bon Jovi used in the film, and an interesting featurette on the film’s stunt driving, something you don’t see all that often. Overall, a good movie & decent special features. Worth a $20 DVD purchase? That’s a tough one. Worth your time to rent, Redbox, Netflix, et al? Definitely, if for no other reason than watching a few master actors having some fun.

Stand Up Guys is in stores on DVD and Blu-Ray today.

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The Author

Gabriel Ruzin

Gabriel Ruzin

Gabriel is a genre film lover, giddy in the presence of beauty and awesomeness, cranky in the presence of artless junk. His first movie memory is watching Khan die in STAR TREK II as a 4-year-old (true story). Gabriel started his online writing 'career' a few years back on a WP blog before graduating to writing for a few bonafide movie sites, including serving as an editor for two. The Coen brothers, Terry Gilliam, and David Fincher are among his favorite directors. He co-hosted the Telluride Horror Show in 2011, 2012, and will host again in 2013. In the midst of writing a book on THE TWILIGHT ZONE for Applause Books. Film trivia whiz. Facial hair artiste.