[Screen It]


(2013) (Al Pacino, Christopher Walken) (R)

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Dramedy: A retired criminal spends time with his best friend, freshly released from prison, while contemplating his orders to kill him before 10 a.m. the next day.
Doc (CHRISTOPHER WALKEN) is a retired criminal who now spends most of his time painting and otherwise leading an uneventful life, including having breakfast every day at the same diner where he's struck up a friendship with a young waitress, Alex (ADDISON TIMLIN). Today is different, though, as his best friend and former criminal partner, Val (AL PACINO), is being released from prison after serving a 28-year sentence. But Doc has been given orders from crime boss Claphands (MARK MARGOLIS) to kill Val in response to the boss's adult son dying during a botched job with him.

Val knows it's coming and thus wants to spend his last day living it up, including a trip to the local brothel run by Wendy (LUCY PUNCH). Too much Viagra, however, results in an emergency room visit where the attending physician, Nina (JULIANNA MARGULIES), just so happens to be the daughter of the third man in their former criminal trio, Richard Hirsch (ALAN ARKIN), who now resides in a nursing home. Wanting to relive their old times, Doc and Val steal a car and bust Hirsch out, only to discover a bound and gagged rape victim, Sylvia (VANESSA FERLITO), in the trunk of the stolen car.

Considering themselves stand up guys, they go to get revenge on those responsible and enjoy their return to form. But with Doc facing a 10 a.m. deadline to kill his best friend, it would appear Val's time is running out. That is, unless they can come up with another plan.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Those were the days, my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we choose
We'd fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way

Mary Hopkins "Those Were the Days My Friend"

While neither age nor time will diminish the physical, mental, business, social or political accomplishments that people have created, nor will it erase the former physical beauty or handsomeness of once young people, it's sometimes a bit of a downer to see such folks in old age. While it will happen to everyone (if lucky enough to get there) and I'm certainly not casting stones considering I'm in the second half of my life, I usually operate by a "best to leave well enough alone" philosophy regarding such matters.

For instance, a few years ago, I had the opportunity to see Jerry Lee Lewis perform a one-man concert. I love his music from the 1950s and footage of him from back then shows a musician clearly in his prime. But then I thought there's no way a 70-year-old version of him would be able to play like he did in his twenties. The same held true upon actually meeting Muhammad Ali after Parkinson's syndrome had all but eliminated his brash swagger, and don't get me started on looking up former high school classmates and suddenly seeing them as middle-aged people rather than the teens I remember.

Although I clearly have no affinity toward criminals, I'd guess the same likely holds true for them. While few are likely as charming as some of their cinematic counterparts, I imagine there are those who look back at their glory days and hum Hopkins' above lyrics. That would especially be true for those who operated back when that song was a hit in the 1960s, something I could imagine held true for former criminals turned senior citizens Val, Doc and Hirsch. Now a recently released ex-con, a painter and a nursing home resident respectively, they're the main characters in "Stand Up Guys," a film that gets kudos for pairing up three terrific actors (Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin), but knocks for giving them subpar material with which to work.

Fans of theirs might appreciate getting the chance to see them together, but in line with my aforementioned stance on such issues, I still prefer to see them in their prime, especially if the alternative is seeing them saddled with the genre clichés and conventions on display here. Concocted as an intended mixture of snarky and snappy dialogue with some often hard-hitting violence, this feels like one of those films that got the green light and a push into theaters following the success of "Pulp Fiction." Albeit with much older characters, but you get the idea of what actor-turned-director Fisher Stevens and screenwriter Noah Haidle were going after.

Say what you will about Tarantino and the decidedly adult nature of his films, but he knows how to write witty and clever dialogue and use that and all of his directorial prowess to make his scenes -- and sometimes his entire films -- jump off the screen with greatness. One never gets the sense of any of that here, with fairly lame dialogue and some pacing that's downright geriatric at times. About the only thing viewers will likely do is jump at the chance to get out of their seats and find something better to watch.

For a while, it's just Pacino and Walken as the main attraction, with the latter's character having just picked up the former upon his release from prison after a 28-year stint. They're best friends and fellow criminal partners, but the rub is Val kept quiet about what really happened that left him incarcerated, while Doc has the unsavory order from a crime boss -- Mark Margolis playing a one-note and terribly conceived thug by the unlikely name of Claphands -- to kill him within 24 hours.

Not having lost any of his criminal savvy in the joint, Val knows it's coming and quickly figures out Doc's the hitman. The two discuss it and other matters, but the dialogue is so inert and uninspired that the poignancy is lost and the "fun" of such a setup is all but squandered. Things briefly light up when they spring Hirsch from his nursing home and he quickly takes up where he left off in terms of fast driving. Unfortunately, his appearance is only brief and thus whatever momentary spark Arkin manages to bring to the proceedings is quickly snuffed out upon his departure.

Thus, all we're left with is wondering if, when and how Doc is going to pull the trigger as the two old friends spend their last few hours together. Despite the potential, it's not remotely enthralling or engaging material, and it's certainly no surprise how things ultimately turn out beyond the fact that it takes the characters -- and thus the filmmakers -- that long to execute.

While one can't fault Stevens for letting old age get the better of his directing career -- as his only other full-length piece of cinematic fiction was the barely released or seen "Just a Kiss" from 2002 -- this isn't an offering that anyone would consider to be from anyone's prime. Wasting such talent should be considered criminal, and all the film does is make one long for these guys in their prime and/or any far better crime caper from the past. "Those Oh, yes, those were the days. La la la la la la, La la la la la la..." "Stand Up Guys" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed January 23, 2013 / Posted February 1, 2013

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