Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Zach Braff’s remake of Going in Style: the definition of an adequate movie. Looking for a simple story you’ve seen time and time again? Boy, have I got a script for you. Oh, you’d like an elderly star who exudes charm and well-tuned comedy chops? Heck, I’ll give you three! And of course this dish wouldn’t be complete without a fine glaze of zero repercussions and simplified morals. Yum.
As you might guess, Going in Style is not an Oscar contender. It’s the simple story of three retired steelworkers in New York whose pension fund is dissolved and handed over to the bank to pay off company debts. After one experiences a bank robbery first hand, he decides it can’t be all that difficult and enlists the other three to take their revenge via, well, a bank robbery. The old codgers fumble their way through the learning process, with only their own inexperience and a detective played by Matt Dillon to get in their way.
As you might expect, all three have reasons beyond basic livelihood to go along with the plan: inexplicably British New Yorker Joe (Michael Caine) is being foreclosed on by the same bank that handles his pension, which wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t for his daughter and granddaughter living with him. Willie (Morgan Freeman) just wants to see his family more often, while also dealing with impending renal failure and requiring a new kidney. Jazz saxophone player Albert (Alan Arkin), the most cynical of the group, has the least motivation . . . until he starts seeing a grocery store worker played by Ann Margaret, which of course is the greatest inspiration of all.
Before we get into the pros and cons, here’s what you all want to know: yes, Ann Margaret is still hot. Her GILF Club membership has yet to be revoked by Helen Mirren. Now, go ahead and re-watch Viva Las Vegas for the umpteenth time in anticipation.
Going in Style is a film built on charm. Whether it’s the three seasoned leads or Braff’s well-tuned directing hand, the entire movie maintains a cool attitude that I would not trust to a less experienced group. Even when writer Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent, Hidden Figures) brings up heady topics like healthcare and overseas jobs, the scenes pivot just enough to stay away from being too controversial or standing on the soapbox for too long. He also stays away from gross-out scat and drug humor (minus one very funny moment in which Caine and Freeman partake in one of those marijuana cigarettes to prove they’re “cool”), opting instead for that cutesy style of mean-spiritedness and friendship that seems to work for any audience.
Alas, there is one big issue that stops me short of actually praising Going in Style: it’s not anything I haven’t seen done before and better. It’s incredibly predictable, to the point where you might even be four or five scenes ahead of it at any given moment. The tone even betrays any tension that maybe it’s going to veer off at any moment and surprise you with something more than what it has set out to do from the very first scene.
Mefli and Braff keep a lot of what made the Martin Brest-directed 1979 original Going in Style so good: three experienced leads who could act the pants off any youngster, paired with sardonic humor and a scathing critique of how we treat our elderly. The biggest difference is that the motivation, which in the original was more along the lines of “well, we’re being forgotten, let’s rob a bank”, has been substituted with more modern Hollywood logic and stereotypes. No longer can our characters decide to be totally immoral — instead, let’s give their guns blanks and staple on saccharine stories about kidney failure and housing foreclosure. Heck, throw a deadbeat dad seeking redemption in for good measure, maybe get that charming British dude from Guardians of the Galaxy to play him. This is a film that does not allow its audience to experience sadness or complexity for too long, lest it be accused of bumming them out.
Going in Style is a fun movie and one that you’ll probably enjoy and your parents and children may love. They’ll get a kick out of Keenan Thompson’s cameo as a grocery store manager and Chritopher Lloyd spouting nonsense about cocaine, and of course they’ll be lured into an endless well of charm provided by our three leading men. However, I doubt that in a month they’ll even remember seeing it.