Stand Up Guys

I can only assume that when Fisher Stevens read the “Stand Up Guys” screenplay, he thought: This isn’t very good. But perhaps it will be moderately enjoyable if I can get someone great to play the leads! (I don’t wish to contemplate a scenario where Stevens read Noah Haidle’s cliched, belabored crime dramedy and thought: This is terrific!) And he was right. Thanks to Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and Alan Arkin — mostly just for being charismatic old pros who are fun to hang out with — “Stand Up Guys” is watchable, occasionally amusing, not altogether insufferable.

Pacino plays Val, a career criminal who has just been paroled after a long prison stretch and is glad to see his old friend and cohort, Doc (Walken), waiting for him. A third collaborator, Hirsch (Arkin), is in a nursing home, a reminder that Val and Doc aren’t long for this world either. Gone are the glory days of crime and whores and guns! But while much has changed since Val went away, one thing hasn’t: a fellow crook named Claphands (Mark Margolis) still holds Val accountable for a past grievance, and he still wants revenge.

Eh, but that side of the film — i.e., the plot — isn’t of much interest. It’s familiar territory, Stevens doesn’t give it any polish, and Haidle’s screenplay barely even attempts to be witty. When the movie is good, it’s because Val and Doc are conversing casually, joking and sparring like comfortable old buddies, the rapport between Pacino and Walken affable and unforced. (Arkin is likewise delightful, but his role is much smaller.) You can almost get away with putting the two in front of a camera and just letting them chat. In fact, that’s preferable to the hollow shenanigans the movie prescribes for them, which include visits to a brothel and the ingestion of too much Viagra, in an unfunny sequence that seems to last much longer than the four hours considered safe. Less of that, more of Walken, Pacino, and Arkin giving each other a hard time, please.

C (1 hr., 35 min.; R, abundant harsh profanity, some sexual dialogue and references, some strong violence.)