Stars have silly fun in 'Stand Up Guys'

Fisher Stevens, left, directs Al Pacino on the set of "Stand Up Guys"

The "Stand Up Guys" at hand consist of a trio, not a quartet. They and their film might better have been called "Grumpy Old Crooks."

Chief among them is Al Pacino as Val, just concluding a 28-year vacation in the penitentiary for taking a rap and refusing to rat on his criminal associates. Now, upon release, he is met and taken home by old pal Doc (Christopher Walken), his diametric opposite comrade-in-crooked-arms, a soft-spoken man who paints landscapes, watches cable TV and otherwise enjoys a calm, cool daily routine.

Doc, it seems, wants to help Val quietly adjust and heal. Val, on the other hand, wants to party. Hard. On the way to a stripper club, he talks Doc into burglarizing a pharmacy to steal Viagra -- pocketing a dozen other drugs in the process. ("My co-pay is insane on that one ....") He snorts them all together, gets totally wasted, and -- in the first of several raunchy, semi-slapstick sex scenes -- is unable to consult his doctor "for an erection lasting more than four hours."

Recovering from that, the only thing Val wants more than partying is to get his old gang back for one last criminal hurrah. That requires rescuing their pal Hirsch (Alan Arkin) -- a car thief and getaway-driver par excellence -- from the Lighthouse Nursing Home. They do so. But Hirsch is ailing. "They took something out of me a few months ago," he says. What? "I don't know, I don't ask."

It's all great fun, except for one minor detail unbeknownst to Val: The Mob has assigned his beloved Doc to kill him by 10 a.m. the next morning.

Director Fisher Stevens, who has assorted documentaries and TV shows to his credit, does what he can with Noah Haidle's script, which takes a melodramatic turn with a subplot involving Mr. Walken and a mysterious young waitress.

There's minimal violence in this geriatric "GoodFellas," with no gunplay till an hour or so into it. But there's a hilarious wardrobe scene and a nice poignant dance moment -- reminiscent of "Scent of a Woman" -- between Mr. Pacino and a nightclub girl.

The iconic stars work hard, playing nicely off one another and investing their half-drawn characters with more depth than this gangster dramedy really deserves. Mr. Arkin especially brightens up the proceedings whenever he's around, which is not enough.

Mr. Walken is EVERYWHERE these days -- here, in "A Late Quartet" and in the wonderful "Seven Psychopaths." His funny interactions with Mr. Pacino make for a celebrity battle of to-die-for mannerisms. They both get better and better with age, but like all actors -- great and small -- they're at the mercy of their material.

Come to find out, their roles in "Stand Up Guys" were originally reversed. Mr. Walken was to play Val, and Mr. Pacino to play Doc. By mutual agreement, they switched. Wisely. But an inspired idea belatedly occurs to me: The film's makers should have had the imagination to do a structural redesign, cut the story in half, shoot it both ways and run the two versions sequentially. How fascinating would that have been? The talk of the universal town and a surefire bet for next year's Oscars!

Alas, they don't ask or listen to me. I'm a prophet way ahead of (and behind) my time. Nevertheless, Mr. Walken, Mr. Pacino and Mr. Arkin are great fun to watch in "Stand Up Guys," even as it is, and almost -- if not quite -- make this silliness work.

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