A writer must eat, which is why most playwrights eventually try their hands at screenwriting. Stand Up Guys, starring Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin, comes from the stage-trained Noah Haidle, whose story premise sounds like a sure (if derivative) thing for a trio of well-worn, well-liked mugs.
We know these mugs well enough to call them by their first names. After a 28-year prison sentence, small-time hoodlum Val, played by Al, and Al’s nutty hair, is greeted at the gates by old friend Doc, played by Christopher and his nutty hair. Doc’s been hired, under threat of execution, to kill his pal Val at the behest of a venal mobster.
But first, some would-be fun. Val takes a fistful of Viagra, which lands him in the ER. The lads pay a visit to their former getaway driver, Hirsch, played by Alan. Misadventures, sex with sweet Russian hookers, nostalgic sentiment for the trio’s glory days, and retribution upon the hides and groins of a gang of rapists fill out the dance card.
As written by Haidle, and directed in an eerie, static no-man’s-land atmosphere of urban desolation by Fisher Stevens, Stand Up Guys settles for criminally little. Arkin in particular can barely hide his lack of enthusiasm for the material. Some of the looks he shoots his co-stars appear to contain a secret code of some kind, deciphered as: “Well, at least I’m in ‘Argo.'”
The gents are meant to be gallants as well as courtly, movie-type thugs with a sense of honor. Addison Timlin as a charming coffee shop waitress and Julianna Margulies as Hirsch’s daughter do what they can to humanize an almost inhumanly formulaic enterprise. But this is strictly a boys’ night out, and rather than flying by, it feels like three months in the movie slammer.