Christopher Walken (Doc) gets into his old beat-up Buick and drives to the prison to pick up his old friend Val (Al Pacino). Val has just done 28 years’ hard time because he’s not a snitch. He’s a stand-up guy. He was involved in a police shootout with his old gang and he was the only one captured. The rest escaped. And he never ratted them out. Not even for the promise of a lesser sentence.
But what should have been golden currency in the underworld actually is not. The kingpin, named Claphands (Mark Margolis) had a son who was on that job, too, and somehow managed to get himself killed, and Claphands blames Val. Sure, Claphands could have ordered the hit in prison. But he figured he would make Val suffer more by serving every minute of the hard time, and then getting whacked his first day out. And Claphands knows just the guy to do it: yeah, you guessed it, Doc.
Doc is actually Val’s last and only friend. But Doc, now “retired” and living a mild-mannered life as a sometime landscape painter in a small dingy apartment, is in a tough situation here. Claphands has threatened his life if he doesn’t do it. And this career thug doesn’t make idle threats. So there it is. Doc’s got the handgun, and Val is too savvy not to know the subtext of all the squiring around, taking him wherever he wants to go. And really, Val doesn’t hold it against his old buddy. A job is a job, right? But let’s have a day together first. And what a day it is.
We old guys love it when we see the old guys on the big screen, kicking butt and taking names. Sure, Val and Doc are criminals, and don’t mind a bit stealing a car, just because it’s better than the one they have, or breaking and entering, just to get some medication they need, or perhaps a new suit of clothes, because they can. But they get indignant when their paths cross that of a young lady who was summarily kidnapped and unceremoniously assaulted in a garage, just like she was a worthless nobody who didn’t matter, who could be used and discarded. That offends the sensibilities of our knights in tarnished armor.
You’ve got to love it when they spring their old buddy Hirsch (Alan Arkin), the guy who was always the driver, out of the prison they call a retirement home. Now it’s starting to feel like old times. Of course it’s unrealistic that they would all “get the drop on” the younger thugs and hoodlums. But hey, sometimes the old guys make up in cunning, stealth and audacity what they now lack in speed, agility and quickness. Like the Good Book says, the race isn’t always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong (Ecclesiastes 9:11). And speaking of the Good Book, how great is it that Val and Doc quote Corinthians to each other in the seedy pool hall? Or that Doc honors a last-minute request of Val’s to go by the confessional booth at the cathedral and at least take a final stab at it? (“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been 40 years since my last confession, give or take.”)
Yeah, they’re characters, and that’s what we love about them. Here, at last, is a tongue-in-cheek action/buddy movie for us old guys. Enjoy it while they can still remember their lines and not make fools of themselves. Come to think of it, making a fool of yourself, just one more time, just might be part of the fun.
Ronald P. Salfen is the minister at St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.