In their youth, Val (Al Pacino), Doc (Christopher Walken) and Hirsch (Alan Arkin) were master thieves and con artists, loyal foot soldiers for a fearsome gangster. Today, though, things are different. Doc spends his days painting sunsets in his cramped apartment. Hirsch is tucked away inside a retirement home connected to an oxygen tank for his emphysema. And Val is just getting out of prison after a 28-year sentence, having taken a hit for the team after a job went wrong.
Although they’re in their 70s, the team immediately starts raising hell again once they’re together. Val, who acts like he just got back from a vacation instead of three decades behind bars, wants to have a wild night of partying. Hirsch, who used to be the trio’s getaway driver, sneaks out of the senior center and joins his friends for a night of illegal escapades. Doc is the most contemplative and quiet of the group, because he harbors a heavy, troubling secret: He has less than 24 hours to put a bullet into Val’s head, or else their former boss is coming for him.
The only conceivable reason these veteran actors would have agreed to star in Stand-Up Guys, an excruciating and melodramatic comedy written by Noah Haidle and directed by Fisher Stevens, was the opportunity to work together for the first time. If so, the mission was unsuccessful. Pacino, who spends most of the film in Shouty Al mode, overdoses on Viagra, steals a car and eats three huge dinners at the same restaurant in the span of six hours, primarily because the script requires the characters to interact with a waitress (Addison Timlin) who may be more than the sweet girl she appears to be.
Walken breaks into a drugstore to refill his prescriptions, foots the bill for his two friends’ visit to a brothel and wrestles with his conscience over the assignment he has no choice but to carry out. Arkin fulfills his dream of sleeping with two women, leads police on a 100 mph chase on the freeway and contemplates dropping in on his daughter (Julianna Margulies), the nurse who tends to Val’s drug-induced priapism.
The sight of Pacino reduced to playing out a Viagra joke isn’t even the saddest thing about Stand-Up Guys: Director Stevens, who apparently believes everything should be shot in close-ups and medium shots, is unable to get his actors in sync and form a believable trio. Pacino seems to be acting in a completely different movie than Walken, who is so remote and absent he apparently thought he was cast to play a big dead fish. Arkin, as usual, amps up the energy of any scene he’s in, but he gets the least screen time of the three actors, which turns out to be a blessing.
Nothing in Stand-Up Guys makes sense, not the 10 a.m. deadline a mobster ( Breaking Bad’s Mark Margolis) has given Doc to kill his old friend, nor the hit men who show up at 6 a.m. at a clothing store, nor the woman the guys find in a trunk, naked and beaten and eager for revenge. The movie is a series of nonsensical, supposedly wacky episodes building up to a violent finale that seems to have been spliced in from another film. All of this would have been easy to forgive if the three leads shared even a shred of chemistry together. But there are times when Walken stares at Pacino in a way that makes you think these actors don’t like each other much. For a good movie about old men behaving badly, check out the 1979 heist comedy Going in Style, starring George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg as three old coots who plot one last bank job. That one was funny and bittersweet: Stand-Up Guys makes you root for the cops to put this trio away and put the audience out of its misery.