"Stand Up Guys," starring Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin as elderly gangsters out for a last night of fun, marks the year's first senior-citizen bad-boy comedy, and it won't be the last. "Last Vegas," with Michael Douglas and Robert De Niro, among others, will bookend the year in December. Which movie has the better ensemble? On paper, "Stand Up Guys" seems the winner.
For starters, there's Pacino in the role of Valentine, a fresh-from-stir mobster with 28 years' worth of mayhem to make up for. Knocking back liquor, charming the ladies and snorting anything he can crush (hypertension meds? They'll do), Val is the kind of randy old satyr that Pacino, 72, can still play with ease. Walken, as Doc, strikes a tough but poignant note: He's been ordered to kill his old friend by morning. Arkin, playing their former wheelman, Hirsch, leavens the machismo with shrugging Jewish humor: Asked what he's been doing all these years, he replies, "Grieving, mostly."
These three old pros work their magic, but writer Noah Haidle and director Fisher Stevens don't ask much more of them. The actors merely play themselves, and "Stand Up Guys" is mostly a string of low-key, almost-amusing chats over breakfast tables and pool tables, as if just watching these actors exhale should be entertaining enough. Tired jokes about Viagra and virility are no replacement for story or character.
As in younger bro-centric comedies like "The Hangover," the women here are primarily hookers (Lucy Punch), distressed damsels (Addison Timlin plays a poor waitress, Vanessa Ferlito an abuse victim) and caregivers (Julianna Margulies shows up as a nurse). They exist to aid and abet the bad boys' behavior. In this case, though, the boys need all the aid they can get.
PLOT Three retired gangsters reunite to paint the town red. RATING R (language, violence, drug use)
BOTTOM LINE These old stars have oodles of charm but get little to work with in this barely-there comedy. A few smiles, but never a real laugh.