The 'I'm getting too old for this s**t' action hero card should be played with caution. We've seen it work this year for Arnie in The Last Stand, and backfire horribly for Bruce Willis's worn-out John McClane, so it's hard to know how excited to be at the prospect of Al Pacino and Christopher Walken playing former mobsters out to relive their glory days. On the one hand, it's hard to see how you could go wrong with that pairing. On the other, the last film to star Pacino and Walken was 2003's Gigli, so this could really go either way.
One of Pacino's best performances remains his tragicomic turn as Donnie Brasco's ageing, increasingly ineffectual Lefty Ruggiero, and more than a decade on he brings the same wounded, wolfish quality to Stand Up Guys' Val, an ex-con released into the care of former partner Doc (Walken) after 28 years in jail. He's keen to get his rocks off in every conceivable sense - cue an obligatory and painfully protracted Viagra gag - and the pair soon enlist their ailing former getaway driver (Alan Arkin) to help out on One Last Job.
But unbeknownst to Val, this entire night is also his death row meal: Doc's been enlisted to carry out a hit on him by a vengeful mob boss (Breaking Bad's Mark Margolis). It's a twist that unfortunately recalls Martin McDonagh's infinitely sharper but thematically similar In Bruges, designed to add an emotional layer that Noah Haidle's script doesn't fully pay off.
The plot feels largely perfunctory - it's plain that director Fisher Stevens is less interested in narrative than in allowing his veteran trio to trade as much sly, salty banter as possible, and it's hard to blame him. However, the result is a meandering series of set pieces that start off sloppy, and verge on disastrous after the introduction of Vanessa Ferlito in a mind-bogglingly misjudged role. Playing the aftermath of a rape and kidnapping for off-handed laughs is probably to be avoided, unless you happen to be immensely confident in your own ability to mesh black humour with human tragedy, and if Haidle has any such self-confidence, it's misplaced.
But there's sharp dialogue and the odd, startling moment of emotional intimacy scattered amidst the dreck; enough to make this a solidly entertaining couple of hours if you try resolutely not to think about it too hard. Pacino and Walken craft a convincingly warm, well-worn friendship, and neither is remotely phoning this in; they're vital and vigorous enough to pull off the action, and as nuanced as you hope in the quieter moments. As uneven and scattershot as it is, Stand Up Guys still oddly ends up exceeding your expectations.