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Stand Up Guys

At a critical plot turn in Fisher Stevens’s Stand Up Guys, one of those guys, Doc (Christopher Walken), has to make an urgent phone call. He easily finds what must be one of the last working public phones in the unidentified northern US city in which the movie is set. It is quite an appropriate scene. In virtually any other movie Doc would have had recourse to a cell phone. In Stand Up Guys there’s not one of those in sight. The payphone fits into the picture’s distinctly artificial old-school spirit.

It’s about a couple of old, small-time former hoodlums who spend about 24 hours together, much of it standing up for a posited abandoned underworld ethos. As the other titular guy, Val (Al Pacino), observes, in the day there were “consequences” for hoods who crossed the line. Among the adventures Val and Doc have over the movie’s day-long time span is the very violent chastisement of several brutal thugs who have severely abused a young woman.

There’s nothing remotely plausible about any of this, or much else in Noah Haidle’s screenplay. Stand Up Guys’s hokey faux nostalgia and episodic setups are the stuff of old Hollywood B-movie conventions. To be sure, there’s a more contemporary infusion of schlong-and-Viagra sex joking, and a relatively modest indulgence in de rigueur violence. But the real excuse for the movie is the pairing of Pacino and Walken, aided in the picture’s mid-section by Alan Arkin as one of their former crime associates. This is a movie that needs the two stars’ combined and estimable skills. Any significant interest Stand Up Guys generates is likely to be due to their nicely executed “business.” Pacino’s tensely wound, periodically uncoiled expressiveness, and Walken’s slightly off-kilter, vaguely anxious recessiveness mesh amusingly, even a little poignantly, as the two guys reminisce and banter while their ominous joint situation looms disastrously. They play so well off each other that one response to this movie is likely to be regret that they weren’t in a sounder vehicle.

Watch the trailer for Stand Up Guys

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