Odd fact: Al Pacino and Christopher Walken, two of our most regally eccentric acting legends, have never starred in a movie together. “Stand Up Guys” might remedy that, but it barely deserves to be called a movie. The pair did have smallish roles in the 2003 bomb “Gigli,” and the new film does stand as an improvement, but only in the sense that mildew is preferable to toxic mold.
Three decades ago, Pacino’s Val took the fall for a heist that went wrong; now he’s getting out of jail and his old partner in crime Doc (Walken) is there to bring him home. Val realizes early on that Doc is under orders from their rageaholic boss (Mark Margolis) to kill him, but, gentle soul that he is, Doc can’t bring himself to pull the trigger. So the two old friends spend a night and a morning wandering around bizarrely empty streets, visiting hookers and 24-hour diners, and breaking old friend Hirsch (Alan Arkin) out of assisted living for one last joyride.
It’s not a bad idea: Let two acting lions just riff and spar, and the hell with a plot. It could turn left into Laurel and Hardy or right into Beckett. Unfortunately, Noah Haidle’s crude script and Fisher Stevens’s tone-deaf direction push “Stand Up Guys” straight over a cliff. We can tell what we’re in for as soon as Doc breaks into a pharmacy so that Val can gulp down a bottle of Viagra; 20 minutes of Pacino making penis jokes. The star has been in enough swill by now that he knows what to do — amp up the volume and act like nothing’s wrong — but Walken lets the shame of it all throw off his unique rhythms.
I don’t know what screenwriter Haidle’s problem is with women, but he needs a therapist, not a word processor. A visit to a cathouse ends with both a gorgeous Russian prostitute (Katheryn Winnick) and the madam (Lucy Punch) cooing orgasmically after two minutes of sex with Arkin’s decrepit Hirsch. Later, the three help a woman (Vanessa Ferlito) who has been gang-raped and thrown naked into a car trunk exact revenge against her tormenters; she seems more annoyed than traumatized. Similarly, a hospital nurse played by Julianna Margulies greets the death of a beloved relative with a quick tear and a shrug before coming along on a midnight burial.
We get it: “Stand Up Guys” is supposed to be cutesy criminal magic realism. But Stevens, an actor turned director, never finds the right vibe, and the movie’s genuinely creepy misogyny sours the attempts to go sentimental in the final act. The editing is slack, the camerawork graceless; you can sense the crew standing back in awe as the stars flounder without the support system any actor needs. About all that keeps a viewer from slipping into a coma is some meaty R&B songs on the soundtrack.
A lot of recent releases have let old movie stars try new tricks, from the violent (“Red,” “The Expendables”) to the comic (“The Guilt Trip”) to the classy (“Quartet”). “Stand Up Guys” represents the genre’s new bottom of the barrel. It’s like watching your grandfather get naked on YouTube.Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.