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Stand Up Guys an Odd Mix of Sex Jokes, Bible Quotes

<i>Stand Up Guys</i> an Odd Mix of Sex Jokes, Bible Quotes

DVD Release Date: May 21, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: February 1, 2013
Rating: R for language, sexual content, violence and brief drug use
Genre: Comedy
Run Time: 95 min.
Director: Fisher Stevens
Actors: Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin, Juliana Margulies, Addison Timlin, Mark Margolis, Vanessa Ferlito

Movies for older audiences are usually the exception, not the rule, among current releases, but right now filmgoers can view Amour, Quartet and as of today, Stand Up Guys—all starring older actors and aimed a target demographic well beyond the teenagers who drive opening-weekend box-office receipts. Will Stand Up Guys find an appreciative, receptive audience the way Amour and Quartet already have?

It’s hard to predict audience reaction, but Stand Up Guys never quite lives up to the caliber of its on-screen talent. The story meanders, the jokes are often beneath the actors delivering them, and while the film goes out with a bang, the movie feels a little bit draggy even at a lean 95 minutes.

Former gangster Val (Al Pacino, Righteous Kill) leaves prison after serving 28 years for a crime that went bad nearly three decades earlier. Val was a "stand up guy" in prison in that he stayed in the Big House longer than he could have because he wouldn’t give up any of his friends.

His former partner in crime, Doc (Christopher Walken, Seven Psychopaths), meets him on the outside to help Val adjust to freedom. But this reunion isn’t quite as hunky-dory as it initially seems. There’s a tension beneath the surface, an unease to their banter.

Val waits before confronting Doc about the awkwardness. First, Val visits a local brothel where Doc used to be a regular. Jokes ensue about sexual performance and erectile dysfunction, but the dialogue and comic timing are the stuff of TV sitcoms, not big-screen stories starring three Oscar-winning actors.

Things get more serious as the evening wears on. Val confirms his suspicions: Doc is there not to be Val’s buddy, but his executioner. A mob boss named Claphands (Mark Margolis, The Wrestler) wants payback for the death of his child at Val’s hand years ago. Claphands doesn't care that the death was accidental. He’s waited all this time for payback, and he’s ordered Doc to carry out the deed.

Val’s no fool. He understands what’s supposed to happen. Val only wants to know how much time he has left before Doc must finish the job. What will the duo do during Val’s few remaining hours? The answer: pick up their old driver, Hirsch (Alan Arkin, Marley & Me), and have one last wild night on the town. More sex jokes follow, as does a brutal confrontation and a final decision about Val’s fate.

There’s not much more than that to Stand Up Guys, but one obscure and probably superficial dimension deserves comment: Doc’s conflicted character is first seen in a church pew. Whatever his past misdeeds, he’s struggling with what Claphands has demanded of him now. Repeatedly, Doc asks Claphands to call off the job. During Doc’s conversations with his old friend, Val makes out-of-the-blue references to the Bible, quoting from 2 Corinthians 1 and reminding Doc that you "Galatians 6:7-9" and "John 8:32." Later, Val goes to confession for the first time in ages, and there he wearily speculates about his eternal destination. Indeed, the closing song on the soundtrack begins, "Bless me Father, for I have sinned." The church setting is a powerful counterpoint to the guys' behavior, a sign they’re aware that their actions have had and will have consequences, and that they will receive their just reward... or punishment.

So what’s going on with all the God talk in Stand Up Guys? It’s tempting to think Val may be testing Doc and that Val could be an instrument or servant doing God’s bidding, but the dalliances with hookers would make such a reading highly distasteful. No, the more likely explanation is that the church imagery and Bible talk are just moral drapery hung on a flimsy framework of old-age jokes and one-last-hurrah antics. The film’s most provocative moments are in its finale, but even those are an echo of better films. 

The combination of elements in Stand Up Guys simply doesn’t work, just as if Grumpy Old Men had been written and directed by Ingmar Bergman. As such, it only leaves you wondering who thought it was a good idea.


  • Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; the f-word; various obscenities; much discussion about sex and sex organs
  • Alcohol/Smoking/Drugs: Prescription pills taken; smoking; meds are crushed and snorted
  • Sex/Nudity: Doc takes Val and, later, Hirsch, to a house of prostitutes; a hand on a woman’s rear end; discussion and taking of pills that enhance sexual performance; a man on a hospital gurney has an obvious erection, which is covered by a sheet; a doctor says he has to insert a needle into a man’s penis to drain excess blood; Hirsch heads to a room with two prostitutes at the same time; a woman is found bound, gagged and naked in the trunk of a car; men in their underwear
  • Violence/Crime: The three protagonists remember previous jobs, including throwing a man out a window; they break into a drug store and steal prescription meds; the film’s plot revolves around a planned killing; punching and fighting
  • Religion: We first see Doc in a church pew; a character quotes 2 Corinthians 9:7 a character states that you "reap what you sow;" a vindictive man is compared with "the devil himself;"; a character says “the truth will set you free;"; a church is said to be "always open;" a song on the soundtrack includes the words, "Bless me Father, for I have sinned;" Val goes to confession, and tells the priest he doesn’t need worldly things where he’s going

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Publication date: February 1, 2013