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January 30th, 2013 AP KRYZA | Movie Reviews & Stories
 

A Fistful of Viagra

Christopher Walken and Al Pacino go slumming in Stand Up Guys.

screen_standupguys_3913HARD AS GIBRALTAR: Christopher Walken and Al Pacino are old guys with guns. - IMAGE: Roadside Attractions
Europe is considerably kinder to its elder statesmen—at least where cinema is concerned. Michael Haneke’s dissection of octogenarian love, Amour, is a lock for the foreign-language Oscar, with Emmanuelle Riva, 85, up for her own golden boy.  Middlebrow dramedy Quartet is winning audiences over with its story of retired musicians like Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon taking the stage. 

What do we do with our aging legends? We repurpose their well-worn personas. On the rare occasion, it works, highlighted last year by Robot & Frank, which cleverly cast Frank Langella as an elderly thief with dementia who used his automated butler to abet him in cat burglary. When it doesn’t work, we get Stand Up Guys, an insipid, horribly unfunny film that showed up 10 years too late to the Tarantino-aping party and casts some of the greatest actors of the past 30 years in a horribly lazy and tonally schizophrenic crime comedy. 

You’re always in trouble when a film about dudes over 60 goes for the Viagra. Stand Up Guys reaches for it immediately when just-released convict Val (Al Pacino) is taken by his best friend, Doc (Christopher Walken), to a brothel, only to find his pipes aren’t working. So the two immediately break into a drug store, where Walken stocks up on his old-people medicine while Pacino pops a handful of “boner pills” and then spends the next 20 minutes talking about the “python in his pants” that’s “hard as Gibraltar.”

Somehow, it gets worse from there. The setup is as old as screenwriting classes—Walken’s been tasked by a mob boss to whack a knowing Pacino before sunrise, so this is their last hurrah—but just getting Walken and Pacino in a room together is rife with potential. In the rare quiet moment when the two masters of cadence (Pacino the gruff motormouth, Walken the…well, the Walken) exchange dialogue, the film shows potential. But Stand Up Guys jackknifes in tone more frequently than Walken himself. In one scene, they’re sitting in a diner talking about the “good old days.” The next, they’re twinned pistol-wielding badasses doling out vigilante justice. They talk about the woes of aging right before one character “ruins” a hooker for all other men (her words) with his gigantic schlong. Then they talk some more about being old. 

It’s inconceivable how director Fisher Stevens—best known for his accidentally racist turn as an Indian scientist in the 1986 robot-with-feelings gem, Short Circuit—could have amassed such a cast with a script seemingly assembled from a stack of film-school scripts with a chain saw. Even the great Alan Arkin, who shows up briefly as the pair’s former getaway driver, can’t bring life to some of the most shallowly written gangsters since The Boondock Saints, a film Stand Up Guys also begins to echo in its strained final act. 

Stand Up Guys is a sad film. Not in its content, per se, since it’s a comedy. It’s tragic in its ability to take a great actor like Pacino and further his descent into caricature. Pacino has been a craggy Muppet version of himself for years, but even at his worst (88 Minutes or Righteous Kill, anyone?) he’s still got some of that manic energy that defined a generation of actors. Walken fares much better, but mainly because you could watch Walken do his taxes and still be delighted every time he speaks. But these actors deserve better than this forced garbage that never reaches below the surface and therefore never achieves anything except a rambling sense of shiftlessness. Maybe it’s time Pacino gets a room at that nice retirement home we call Europe, where bad men like Fisher Stevens can’t steal their medicine and gals like Emmanuelle Riva might want a look at that python. 


Critic’s Grade: D

SEE IT: Stand Up Guys is rated R. It opens Friday at Clackamas, Fox Tower, Lloyd Mall.

 
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