From Academy Award winning filmmaker Fisher Stevens –- wait, what? Fisher Stevens has an Academy Award? We can't be talking about that Fisher Stevens, can we? Really? The guy who played Ben Jabituya in 'Short Circuit' has an Oscar? The guy who played Iggy from 'Super Mario Bros.' has an Oscar? The guy who somehow thought it was a good idea to once again play Ben Jabituya in 'Short Circuit 2' has an Oscar? This guy has an Oscar?! And it's for producing 'The Cove,' a powerful conservationist documentary about the horrors of dolphin hunting? Well, that's... awesome! Now, where was I? Right –- from Academy Award winning filmmaker Fisher Stevens, comes 'Stand Up Guys,' a well-meaning but ultimately middling cinematic excuse to get Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin all in a room together. Fueled by a sincere undercurrent of bittersweet nostalgia, the film features strong performances but gradually loses its way, resulting in a mildly entertaining but thoroughly predictable experience. It's enjoyable enough, but even Pacino can't quite "hoo-ah" his way out of the flick's many flaws.
After being locked up in prison for over two decades, aging criminal Val (Al Pacino) reunites with his best friend and former partner, Doc (Christopher Walken). Unfortunately, the pair's gangster boss wants Val dead, and poor Doc has been tasked with the dirty job. Sensing that the writing is on the wall, Val decides to have one last crazy night with his old pal. Together, they meet up with Hirsch (Alan Arkin), their old getaway driver, and try to recapture their youth. But when the sun finally comes up, will Doc be able to go through with his deadly assignment?
Following in the storied tradition of a long line of "up all night" movies, the script mostly focuses on the trio of friends as they get into various misadventures throughout the night. This leads to a few fun set pieces, but sadly, the filmmakers don't really do anything terribly creative with the concept. You see, it turns out that all "misadventure" really means for this group is stealing a car, playing pool, taking "boner pills," and sleeping with prostitutes. Age-related humor abounds, and while there are some occasional laughs to be had, these "old man" jokes are all very obvious and uninspired. After all, there's only so much comedy one can milk from Viagra gags.
A laid back tone and leisurely pace pervade the runtime, and beyond the lazy humor, there is a sweet gentleness to the film's themes of friendship and nostalgia. An emotional poignancy hangs over the proceedings, informing all of the comedy with a genuine sense of longing and regret. The three leads all do a great job of communicating this melancholy mood and it really is nice to see them all on screen together. Pacino's Val knows he's on his way out and the actor imbues the role with a palpable thirst for life. He wants to live as much as he can in the time he was left. He wants to feel his heart beat. He wants to feel his adrenalin pump. He wants to dance! Likewise, Walken is also fantastic in another low key role, bringing a tragic tenderness to his character. He carries a heavy burden throughout the entire movie, and the actor says all that needs to be said through his tired, sad eyes. On the other hand, Alan Arkin is a bit underutilized here, but it's still fun to see him bouncing off of Pacino and Walken. Together they make for a very entertaining trio, which is why it's such a shame that they aren't given something more interesting to do.
As the characters embark on a journey of second chances and reclaimed vigor, the story takes a few increasingly ridiculous turns. These elements all have a certain old school charm to them, but the script relies to heavily on easy crowd pleasing moments that start to rob the flick of any real drama. Some beats also feel rushed and and a few character choices are pretty hard to swallow. This is especially true of certain aspects of Hirsch and his daughter's (Julianna Margulies) storyline. Actually, all of the subplots beyond the main narrative are fairly lackluster and cliched. A painfully telegraphed third act twist involving Doc's personal life has its heart in the right place, but the results are too by-the-numbers to offer much emotion. The ending is also very predictable, and while I admire the finale's nod to the tough guy bravado of 1970s Hollywood, the conclusion is still a bit abrupt and silly.
'Stand Up Guys' doesn't live up to the promise its stellar cast implies, but there is some decent material here. The uninspired comedy can be marginally entertaining and there is genuine emotion in the film's somber examination of friendship, loyalty, and passing time. In fact, buried beneath all the familiar plotting and outlandish crowd pleasing, is the potential for a much more affecting movie. Sadly, instead of truly standing up, the script mostly slouches its way through several mediocre stretches and a few stronger moments. Getting to see Pacino, Walken, and Arkin play off each other might be worth the price of admission alone, but for the most part, this is a pretty big missed opportunity. I mean, even ignoring the scripting concerns, how could Fisher Stevens make another movie and not include his 'Short Circuit' co-star Steve Guttenberg?! I don't know about the rest of you, but I demand more big screen Guttenberg!
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate presents 'Stand Up Guys' in a Blu-ray/UltraViolet Combo Pack. A BD-50 disc comes housed in a keepcase with a cardboard slipcover. Instructions for a downloadable UltraViolet digital copy are also included in the package. After some skippable trailers, the screen transitions to a standard menu. The release is region A coded.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Sharp and full of impressive dimension, this is a very strong transfer free from any distracting technical problems.
The digital source is nearly immaculate, but there is some marginal noise in a few shots and a fleeting instance of background shimmering. Fine details are beautifully rendered, revealing intricate textures and patterns within every plane of the frame. The weathered, worn faces of the film's stars are particularly striking, and the image highlights all of the hard-earned character on Walken and Pacino's melancholic expressions. A faintly nostalgic, golden glaze casts over some scenes while a slight orange/teal push is frequently present, giving the colors a stylized but still rich appearance. A dance scene set in a bar is especially noteworthy, bathing Pacino in bold yellow and purple hues that pop nicely. Contrast is high but still well balanced, offering bright whites and inky blacks.
'Stand Up Guys' really looks rather lovely on Blu-ray with life-like dimension and a crisp high-def sheen that offers a modern style while still evoking classic 70s cinema.
The film is presented with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track and a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track, along with optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. There are some dialogue driven patches that lack much in the way of atmosphere, but a few livelier set pieces explode with fun auditory thrills.
The dialogue is all full-bodied and clean –- well, as full-bodied and clean as Pacino's grizzly, soft spoken speech can be. The track can be quite restrained at times, especially during many of the heart-to-hearts between Val and Doc, and while this quieter approach works well enough, these scenes don't offer much ambiance. Thankfully, splashes of excitement come from a few key sequences including a fun joyride that sends revving engines and squealing tires all around the room with natural directionality and deep bass. Bullets also bring a palpable bang to the proceedings, once again engaging the surrounds with whizzing gunfire and breaking glass. The film's music selections (including several original tacks by Bon Jovi) are also spread nicely around the soundstage, coming through with crisp fidelity and wide dynamic range. All of the audio elements are balanced nicely with one another, and there are no technical problems to speak of.
The lack of atmosphere in its quieter moments is a little disappointing, but the more gentle, intimate feel works well with the movie's content and a few notable set pieces bring a welcome burst of auditory excitement. Really, there's little to complain about here.
Lionsgate has put together a solid collection of supplements, including deleted scenes, featurettes and a commentary. All of the extras are presented in 1080p with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio and no subtitle options.
'Stand Up Guys' can be rather contrived and uninspired, but its legendary stars help to elevate the material. The comedy is frequently lazy, but there is some genuine heart within the story's bittersweet themes. On the technical front, this disc has a very impressive video transfer and a strong audio mix. Though not packed with supplements, the included commentary and featurettes offer a solid amount of production trivia. The script and direction are disappointingly familiar and uneven, but there is no denying the entertaining chemistry between the talented cast. Worth a look.