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Marshall Fine Headshot

Movie Review: Stand Up Guys

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The waste of talent in Fisher Stevens' Stand Up Guys is criminal. It's the movie equivalent of shooting a man in Reno, just to watch him die.

This tale of three aging lawbreakers -- played by Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin -- is not just clichéd. It's witless, to boot. The script by first-timer Noah Haidle longs for depth, even as it makes Viagra jokes (poor Pacino is forced utter them). It wants to be Tarantino-esque, blending wisecracks with wild violence. Instead, it just stumbles from one scene to the next, a long journey into night that will leave you dazed.

Walken plays Doc, who apparently spends his days painting the same landscape of an L.A. River bridge over and over. But on the day in which the story transpires, he packs up his paints and heads for the prison gates, where his best friend, Val (Pacino), is being released after a lengthy stretch.

Very quickly we get the gist: Doc has orders from their old boss, Claphands (Mark Margolis), to kill Val when he's released, because Claphands also has something he's holding over Doc's head. But Doc's deadline is 10 a.m. the next day, so he's willing to let Val have a memorable final night. Val knows this and is determined to make the most of it.

So let's see: hookers and blow, right? Well, hookers, at the least. And then a lot of driving around -- including springing their old pal Hirsch (Arkin) from the nursing home where he's spending his last days connected to an oxygen tank. Hirsch, their longtime getaway driver, takes them on a wild ride and gets a ride himself, when they head back to the same brothel where Val got his pipes cleaned.

But the sword of doom is hanging over Val -- and Claphands (as stupid and contrived a character name as any I've heard in a while) keeps sending thugs to intrude on his final hours. The joke (allegedly) is that these aging wiseguys have a few violent tricks left up their collective sleeves, which they pull off easily because the thugs are too stupid to expect them.

Arkin jolts the film to life during his brief sojourn on the screen. Pacino and Walken have an easy chemistry, but their material is too stale for them to ever really get any traction. There are moments, to be sure, including one when Pacino muses on mortality, when things feel real for a moment. But only for a moment.

There should be a penalty for assembling a cast this good (it includes Julianna Margulies and Lucy Punch) and then forcing them to work from a script as bad as this. If there were such a thing as movie jail, Stand Up Guys and its creators would be serving life without parole.

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