Al Pacino was last seen as “himself” in 2011’s Jack and Jill, in which “he” inexplicably lusted over the drag version of Adam Sandler. Stand Up Guys is only slightly less humiliating. Like lots of fine actors, Pacino has of late found challenging work on television; for HBO, he’s played both Jack Kevorkian and, this March, Phil Spector. But today’s movies don’t much know what to do with autumnal greats short of embarrassing them. Even Clint Eastwood can’t make it through a film these days without a urination gag. And since Stand Up Guys also features Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin, three codgers means extra Viagra jokes for everybody.
Guys tracks the One Crazy Night held by Pacino, Walken and Arkin’s aging cons. Pacino’s fresh out of a lengthy prison stint for accidentally killing the son of a fearful mafioso (Breaking Bad’s Mark Margolis—wasted, but at least he speaks). Tasked with whacking him is his bestie Walken, who decides to delay the bump till the last second, treating him—and, really for just a glorified cameo, Arkin—to some wacky late-night misadventures.
Or would-be late-night misadventures. Noah Haidle’s drearily unimaginative script dreams up a cross-pollination gimmick—it’s a sex comedy crossed with a Tarantino ripoff, but with olds!—but hasn’t given the leads much to do. The same diner is visited no less than three times, the same brothel twice, joyrides in a stolen car happen twice, and don’t go thinking there’s only one grown daughter quietly weeping for her frail father.
That Guys can’t be written off, and even enjoyed in bits, is thanks to casting. Pacino, Walken and Arkin inevitably bring whatever dignity they can to a film that alternates between broad, dumb comedy and broad, dumb drama. The latter is preferable, as our three stars play the script’s fake pathos with actual, profound melancholy. As the straight man, Walken gives a performance almost identical to the one he did recently in A Late Quartet: He’s a granite rock who communicates almost exclusively with his eyes. The three leads have never acted together, at least not at length: Pacino and Arkin barely communicated in Glengarry Glenn Ross, while Walken and Pacino appeared in separate scenes in Gigli, which isn’t that much worse than this. Maybe third time’s the charm for them?