James Bond has a license to kill, and somewhere around the time of Scarface, Al Pacino got a license to overact. In Stand Up Guys, a comedy of sorts about a pair of aging crooks, the veteran thespian hikes up his pants, bugs out his eyes, and waves his arms at walls and floors and people coming through doors. He chews the fat. He chews a steak.
The scenery? He chews that, too.
Pacino's Val is a guy just out of jail, where he's been locked up for a long, long time. As he shuffles into the light of day, his old pal and partner in crime, Doc (Christopher Walken), is there to greet him. Doc lives in a small walk-up, where he paints paintings and leads a life of modest routine. Every day he eats at the same diner, exchanging pleasantries with the same pretty waitress (Addison Timlin).
But now here is Val, criticizing Doc's commode and upending Doc's quietude. Val wants to visit a brothel. Val wants to go drinking and partying. And Val probably doesn't want to hear that there's a contract out on his life - by a mob boss with a long-festering grudge.
So, Doc and Val walk around, and talk around the issue. Walken, wearing high-waisted pants and a look of woe, pretty much plays straight man to Pacino's gangster goofball. And somewhere around the middle of the movie - directed in a loose, improv-friendly fashion by Fisher Stevens - the boys drop in on Alan Arkin, another former colleague, now residing in a retirement home. A joy ride in a stolen car ensues.
Elegiac and corny and not really convincing on any level (especially when it comes to its treatment of women - be they hookers, or waitresses, or girls on the town), Stand Up Guys nonetheless holds some fascination just for the off-the-charts affectedness of Pacino's performance. And for Walken's ever-quirky line readings: his cadences, the way he settles on the unexpected syllable or phrase, turning banal lines of dialogue into things of irony and beauty - it's something to behold.
And it's far more entertaining, in the end, than Pacino's hamboning.