Getting old can be hilarious. Maybe not to the elderly, but there is a certain charming humor to early bird dinner specials, hair growing where hair never grew before, and generational ideas that are so culturally vulgar that it’s almost slapstick comedy.
For awhile, comedies about the elderly in film and television were pretty straightforward with such stars as Archie from All In the Family and Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in Grumpy Old Men, Grumpier Old Men, and probably could have squeezed out Grumpiest Old Men if Lemmon and Matthau held on just a little longer.
Then the elderly got serious, or at least military trained, when we followed black ops agents, mercenary hit-men and women, and Russian spies over 60 in the hilarious action movie RED. With a cast like Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Bruce Willis, Brian Cox, and Helen Mirren, it would have been hard to make a bad movie no matter how ridiculous the premise.
Now the elderly turn their sights on mobster movies, as Al Pacino returns to his Godfather roots to star in the first mobster dramedy, Stand Up Guys. Oh, Pacino isn’t enough? Why don’t we throw Christopher Walken with a gun and a suit into the mix. Happy? Not good enough. We’re going to give you Alan Arkin, too. You know what? I want to see you go full-on elderly bro-mance. Mark Margolis is in the house as well.
Valentine, aka Val (played by Al Pacino) has been in prison for 28 years, a sentence he refused to get reduced by giving up any of his criminal cohorts. When he is released, his long-time friend and associate, Doc (played by Christopher Walken) is there to pick him up. When Val learns that his old boss Claphands (played by Mark Margolis) wants him dead, Val and Doc go rescue their friend Hirsch (played by Alan Arkin) from a nursing home to engage go on a 12-hour, no-hold-barred party that even a young, scrapping 25 year old would dream of.
Stand Up Guys is a tale of brotherhood, honor, and enough dirty old man sex jokes to make even Kevin Smith proud. But does it hold up to expectations?
If I had a chance to get into a time-traveling phone booth to pick up Guns N’ Roses, Nirvana, George Carlin, and Lenny Bruce to bring them into the present day to have a concert at Woodstock with Dr. Dre while Mike Tyson fought a grizzly bear, I would be only a little more excited than I was when I heard that Christopher Walken, Al Pacino, and Alan Arkin were all together in a mobster comedy.
Okay, that’s a lie, but the latter happened with the release of Stand Up Guys, and reality is much better than a dream that will probably never happen.
The reason the film is so cast-focused can be attributed to screenwriter Noah Haidle. This is Haidle’s first produced screenplay after writing mainly for staged performances, and Stand Up Guys is very speech focused. This isn’t a bad thing, considering the success of Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith. It also plays into the strengths of the film’s cast. There are just enough visual jokes and ironic action to make the movie much more than just a group of old men sitting around a table chatting while they eat their Early Bird Specials, but the scenes always go back to talking.
The film is the story of a group of has-been crooks as they try to party it up for one last night, complete with Viagra jokes, references to old people driving, a nursing home jail-break, and some of the most comically represented costumes to make Christopher Walken look really, really, old. How high can a pair of pants be hiked up a torso? You’ll see.
One of the greatest things to come out of this movie besides the Walken/Pacino/Arkin trifecta is my new love for British actress Lucy Punch. Her move from an ultra-happy teacher with a dark side in Bad Teacher to a brothel madam with glasses and a Brooklyn accent in Stand Up Guys works. She keeps her humorous act while becoming just a little bit sexier, officially becoming my new Hollywood.
What is most interesting about this movie is the comparison of the characters and the actors. The ideas of being old and burnt out compared to their best days is a theme that is not only apparent, but cherished on the screen, just enough to make the movie less a homage to this legendary trio, but more a humorous reflection in a much larger idea of camaraderie.
The movie does become a bit overly emotional at the end, but this element just plays well into the theme of brotherhood and family that it’s a plus rather than a detraction.