Al Pacino, Alan Arkin, B-movies, bad films, Christopher Walken, cinema, dark comedies, films, Gallowwalkers, gangsters, growing old, gunfighters, horror films, horror westerns, Movies, so-bad-it's-good, Standup Guys, undead, vampires, Wesley Snipes, Westerns, wish-fulfillment, zombies
When I’m watching movies, I usually take notes. It’s a habit I picked up in film school and it’s stuck with me. I find it useful to be able to look back on my original thoughts about a film after a second viewing: it’s also been useful as far as this blog goes.
As I watched the Wesley Snipes horror/Western Gallowwalkers, I found myself making several notes. Not as many as some films, mind you, since I spent a lot of the time staring at the screen in slack-jawed wonder. Gallowwalkers is not what could be considered a good film. It might be a “so-bad-it’s-good” film but even that’s up for debate. Rather than pen an actual review of the film, I thought that I might just post my notes verbatim. Sometimes, it’s just best to let your id do the talking. Here, then, are the various thoughts that passed through my head last Thursday:
— “The problem with the damned is they don’t stay down.” — Stupid. Why? Does the devil keep misplacing them?
— the silly blonde wigs are ridiculous
— why are they in the tunnels fighting vamps? This is a video game.
— “The gateway to Hell is no place to raise a child.” Well, duh.
— confusing narrative jumps around everywhere
— the film makes less sense as it goes along
— mostly anonymous, masked bad guys skinning people’s faces to wear as their own
— “Forgive me Father, for I have skinned.”
— one character wears two skinned lizards on his head, the tails hanging down the back of his head like limp horns…wow
— the little boy saves Snipes’ life and all he says is, “Kids.” As in, “What’re you gonna do with them?” What an ungrateful shit.
— Snipes kills his partner to “prevent him from bleeding to death,” then laughs about it…what an asshole!
— the Resurrection Rock idea is cool, actually
— end credits are very cool: black and red cartoon/shadow images…most entertaining part of film
— I wish Snipes’ skunk-colored goatee would get an end credit
Standup Guys belongs to a very special, usually rather odious little sub-genre: cinematic big-wigs in their twilight years. As a rule, these films present past matinee-idol caliber stars but place them in situations that the filmmakers feel audiences are clamoring for: growing old. Past examples of this would be Space Cowboys (Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and James Garner getting old in space), On Golden Pond (Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn grow old together) and Red (Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman getting old fighting spies), while more recent examples include Grudge Match (Robert de Niro and Sly Stallone getting old in the ring) and Last Vegas (De Niro, Freeman, Michael Douglas and Kevin Kline getting old in Vegas).
There’s something inherently sad about watching big stars (especially big action stars) in the twilight of their careers. We all know that Hollywood is like a real-life version of Logan’s Run (although I think that the cutoff age nowadays is probably 25: 30 is practically geriatric in modern films) but it often seems that older actors exist simply to get cut down to size: we want to be reminded that these icons are not only fallible but also due to kick the bucket one day. The worst of these kinds of films traffic in maudlin sentimentality, turning formerly treasured roles into old-age caricatures (look how cute and grumpy Clint is! Aww…I think de Niro needs a nap!), operating on the worst kind of fish-out-of-water gimmicks.
Standup Guys features Christopher Walken, Al Pacino and Alan Arkin as former best friends and gangsters growing old. As with most modern-day Pacino films, ol’ Al pretty much just stomps, growls, mugs and jives his way through the film, coming across as a much older, much more obnoxious version of his Frank Slade character from Scent of a Woman. Despite being dialed all the way to “Hey-OH!,” Pacino actually provides some nice moments, including a truly moving graveside eulogy that actually seemed heartfelt, although I still got tired of him pretty quickly. Poor Alan Arkin shows up about halfway through, has some nice scenes and exits stage left before we can really get used to him. As such, it’s pretty much up to Walken to carry the film, a task he’s more than up to.
If Standup Guys has anything to recommend it, that would definitely be Christopher Walken’s awesome performance as Doc. Walken is, easily, the heart and soul of the film. He underplays everything beautifully, allowing for some true emotion to shine through. When he got tough, Walken was terrifying, easily rising to the psychotic heights of his youth. The great thing about the performance, however, was that Walken seldom felt it necessary to there. For the most part, he played Doc as an aging, sweet, moral man who just happened to be a gangster. As strange as it sounds, Walken’s performance in this film may just be in my top 10 performances of his ever: he’s that good.
Ultimately, Standup Guys ends up being a pretty silly, rather inconsequential film. There’s a pretty inordinate amount of wish-fulfillment in the film (old guy has a threesome with two young women and leaves them begging for more; old men become ass-kicking vigilantes; only the good guys can shoot straight; et al), along with plenty of bits that make imperfect sense, at best. Peel back the many layers of this little onion, however, and you end up with one little fact: Walken has seldom been better. His rapport with Pacino feels easy and natural: these seem like lifelong friends. The ending is actually very good and emotionally strong (more wish-fulfillment but it works) and the score/soundtrack is uniformly great, filled with lots of upbeat soul and R & B tracks.
As far as “tough guys get old” films go, you could definitely do worse than Standup Guys. Here’s to hoping Walken gets something else in short order that uses him to as good effect as this did.