Friday, 28 June 2013

Stand Up Guys (15)

Supergroups are a funny thing - for every Cream, there's an ELP; for every Contraband (don't worry, no one has - go look 'em up) there's a Them Crooked Vultures. They are the very epitome of hit and miss.

So it is with their celluloid equivalents. Someone somewhere said 'do you know what would be good? A film with Al Pacino, Christopher Walken AND Alan Arkin' and no one pointed out what the key ingredients needed to be. A good script and a good director.

You see, in the case of Cream you had three gifted musicians with a clear sense of purpose and direction. With Contraband, you had Tracii Guns. (What? Seriously? Oh fer... Go look him up), who may be many things but gifted and blessed with a clear sense of purpose aren't two of them.

Now, in Stand Up Guys' defence, it has the basis of a good idea - Walken puts Pacino up after the latter is released from prison. Granted he's under instructions to kill Pacino's Val but for now they're just old friends remembering the good old days. Later, they'll liberate Alan Arkin from his care home and go hoofing it about in a stolen car. It should be a blast.

And it looks fine. It may be billed as a comedy while looking like a gritty crime thriller (all moody lighting and meetings in dingy diners), but while you're not laughing or being thrilled you can appreciate there is a style at play here. At odds with what's happening on screen, sure, but it's style nonetheless.

Which brings us to the first of the problems. Stand Up Guys is directed by Fisher Stevens, mainly known for being 'oh it's that guy from...' and now handed the reigns for his first full-length feature film. And he's working with Noah Haidle, himself making his full-length debut as a writer. So two novices, setting out together, full of ideas.

Marvellous, but we needed one good one.

At times, Haidle is trying to emulate Tarantino - only with old people. There is a scene where Walken and Pacino are discussing how to get blood stains out of a suit. It's a geriatric Pulp Fiction (what would that be? Mush Fiction?), only without the zing and flair. Then there's the burial scene. In more experienced hands it's black comedy gold. Here, it's almost played for schmaltz, leaving you unsure as to what you should - never mind what you actually are - feeling.

So, it looks nice but is a bit of a mess. Worst films have made it on to the big screen. At least this has got three giants of the industry to pull it out of the mire, right?


Now, as anyone who has been paying attention knows Pacino hasn't made a decent film since Any Given Sunday. Which was 1999. Since then he's been cashing the cheques and trading on his reputation without putting in any great effort (did you see his Shylock? And no, that's not a euphemism). And here is no different. He basically figured out Val's walk and thought 'job done, time for lunch'.

Then we have Walken - an actor I admire and like. But here, he's struggling. Clearly given no great sense of direction, he's left hedging his bets between sinister and frail - and misses both. That's not to say he's bad - he's not. He's just OK.

Then we have Arkin. Now, granted he's made some crap over the years - but when he's good, he's good. Argo. Little Miss Sunshine. We know what the man can do.

Well, it turns out he can also amble through a poorly-drawn role without breaking sweat. Again, it's not his fault. He does what he can with what he's given. He just wasn't given enough.

And then we have the more peripheral characters.

Julianna Margulies is given very little to do as Arkin's daughter Nina, yet still manages to outshine whoever she's on screen with, while Mark Mogolis' Claphands (the man who wants Pacino's Val dead) is a caricature of a caricature. Addison Timlin, meanwhile, is wonderfully sweet as waitress Alex. So sweet, in fact, it feels like she's been borrowed from a totally different film. Again, not her fault.

But all of these acting issues pale into insignificance when put up against Lucy Punch. On the small screen, in the right role, Lucy's OK. But she's not a film actress. And she can't do accents. Certainly not American ones. But that's OK - only a fool would cast her as a Yank when Hollywood is full of ones who talk like that naturally.


Like Daisy Haggard in Episodes, the accent is an inverted Dick Van Dyke while the character serves no apparent purpose. There is a back story alluded to but never expanded on (a writing issue), but the accent and lack of acting is all her own work. And it's a whole new level of terrible. To the point Pacino looks good next to her.

So why didn't I hate this film? It's hard to engage with, the actors don't look like they want to be there or even working with each other, and the writer and director couldn't work out between them what sort of film they wanted to make. It's not a comedy, I laughed once, and robbing a drug store for some viagra doesn't make it a crime caper. Nor does punching a specifically Korean janitor. Mildly racist, sure, but not a crime caper.

I think it's because I didn't resent spending time watching it. Hardly a ringing endorsement, granted, but given some of the bilge Hollywood sees fit to throw at the world, that's a positive.

The relationship between Walken's Doc and Timlin's Alex works well, and there is one single moment of emotion-tugging, so that just about drags it back from the brink of very bad. Leaving it at 'not that good', granted, but it could have been worse.

We could have had more of Punch's brothel madam...

No comments:

Post a Comment