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Chicago – A raunchy and touching comedy about three over-the-hill mobsters led by the stellar trio of Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin, Stand Up Guys lubricates its old joints—of the plot, genre and actors—quite entertainingly. World premiered as the opening night film at the 48th Chicago International Film Festival, this Lionsgate release struts down a familiar path, reminiscent of Mikey and Nicky with even a ray of The Sunshine Boys poking through, and should play well with older audiences with a feel for the actors and this flavor of humor.
The three savvy stars play former bad guys reunited when Val (Pacino) gets out of prison after serving 28 years for a murder he probably didn’t commit. He took the fall for his cohorts Doc (Walken) and Hirsch (Arkin) when they were all involved in a shoot-out in which the only son of a top crime boss was killed. Whose bullet it was didn’t really matter, someone had to pay.
On his first day out, Val is intent on raising some hell just like in the old days, but the only thing resembling the old days is Doc’s dusty gas-guzzler. Like his ride, Doc himself is out of sync, walking stiffly and carefully. He’s a man drained, and further shackled by the vengeful mobster’s demand that he knock off Val within 24 hours, or else. Or else here not only means Doc’s death, but that of his granddaughter. It’s a dreadful quandary, made even harder by the brotherly bonding he and Val rekindle without missing a beat.
Like most geezers, Val harks back to his glory days, when he ate big steaks, gobbled down fountain desserts and had his way with the fancy ladies. Doc is only too willing to saunter down memory-lane with Val, but old delights are now stale and, to throw in some loose Shakespeare, Val’s desire does not meet his performance. Val is like a “man from Mars” as he struggles with new gadgets and changed mores. Predictably, but nonetheless hilariously, Val meets Viagra and learns that, as the commercials warn, an erection lasting more than four hours is not all that great.
More than the hijinks, what’s most amusing and affecting is the body language of the two coots: Lanky Walken treads cautiously with his arms stiffly swaying for balance, while the shorter Pacino careens forward with his whole body lurching for life. Throughout, their movements are so expressive that, were this a silent film, we’d still know everything about them from their gaits.
Similarly succinct is screenwriter Noah Haidle‘s jaunty storytelling. It’s a sharp mix of comedy and pathos, and superbly balanced. Under Fisher Stevens‘ deft direction, Stand Up Guys never wobbles into maudlin or cheap-n-easy sentimentality. It is an entertaining yet sobering portrayal of not-so-wise guys who do not go gently into a no-good night.
The third-guy in the batch is former get-away driver Hirsch (Arkin) who’s been shuffled off to a care facility for his final days. Pumped by the adrenaline of his impending demise, Val cajoles Doc into springing Hirsch. The three amigos will drive once again, albeit with a guy in pajamas and depleted oxygen at the wheel.
Bottom line: Stand-out performances from Pacino, Walken and Arkin as old-timers prove that losing a step can’t keep you off your feet.
Production companies: Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, Lakeshore Entertainment
Cast: Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Julianna Margulies, Alan Arkin, Katheryn Winnick, Mark Margolis, Vanessa Ferlito, Addison Timlin.
Director: Fisher Stevens.
Screenwriter: Noah Haidle.
Producers: Sidney Kimmel, Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi, Jim Tauber.
Director of photography: Michael Grady.
Production designer: Maher Ahmad.
Costume designer: Lindsay Ann McKay
Music: Lyle Workman.
Editor: Mark Livolsi.
R rating, 94 minutes.
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