Going in Style (2017)
You’re never too old to get even.
With Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin on the payroll, Going in Style was never going to outright suck, even if the comedy-caper’s biggest crime is squandering its charming cast. A remake of Martin Brest’s 1979 hit, which itself was based on a story by Edward Cannon — the film starring George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg as a trio of retirees who attempt to rob a bank just for, well, the hell of it — this contemporary revamp is watchable at best, with actor-turned-director Zach Braff failing to capture the gritty edge that made its ’70s counterpart really standout. Relying too heavily on goofball hijinks and tired sitcom sentimentality, this run-of-the-mill adaptation sees Braff and screenwriter Theodore Melfi, Hidden Figures (2016), foolishly update the formula by framing the heist around corporate greed and the injustices of the American Bank system as opposed to the old geezers’ missteps, this ‘safe’ alteration zapping the warped fun out of its premise.
The film opens when Joe Harding (Michael Caine’s seventy-something character) shuffles into the merciless Williamsburg Savings Bank to speak to its insensitive manager, Chuck Lofton (a cartoonish Josh Pais), about a foreclosure notice that was delivered to his home. Low and behold, Joe finds himself in the midst of a bank robbery, where three ‘rather pleasant’ masked goons get away with 1.6 million dollars, right in front of everyone’s noses. Joe’s financial situation worsens when his former place of employment, a Brooklyn-based steel company, shuts down, the higher ups deciding to outsource to Vietnam. With the same bank (Williamsburg) freezing its employee’s pensions, Joe and his best friends/ co-workers Willie (Morgan Freeman) and Albert (Alan Arkin) find themselves in a bit of a jam. See, Joe needs money if he wishes to continue supporting his recently divorced daughter, Rachel (Maria Dizzia), and granddaughter, Brooklyn (Joey King), who both live with him. Meanwhile, Willie needs a new kidney, with his financial situation making it next-to-impossible to visit his family (who reside in another state), while his roommate Albert, a struggling saxophonist, is trying to make ends meet by teaching inept students how to play instruments — this scenario bringing about one of the flick’s funniest moments.
Desperate to come through for his loved ones, Joe finds a solution to all of their problems, and that is to rob Williamsburg and take what’s rightfully theirs (not a penny more), the anxious old timer eventually persuading his reluctant pals, Willie and Albert, to join him — worst case scenario, they get caught and spend the rest of their lives in a cushy prison, one that offers three meals a day and better healthcare (talk about little in the way of stakes). Alas, when a trial run at the local grocery store doesn’t exactly go according to plan — I don’t know how doing wacky stuff like stealthily shoving pork down your pants and tinned ham into your jacket will prepare you for a bank job — the seniors turn to Joe’s former son-in-law, Murphy (Peter Serafinowicz), the ‘low-life’ hooking them up with a criminal named Jesus (John Ortiz), who helps the oldies pull off the seemingly impossible heist.
After his Kickstarter-funded vanity project, Wish I Was Here (2014), flailed both financially and critically, it’s not surprising to see director Zach Braff — who’s still best known for playing the lead in noughties hospital sitcom Scrubs (2001) — tackling a fluffy studio comedy, one that’s suitable for all ages (even if slightly more skewed towards an older demographic). With that said, Braff and cinematographer Rodney Charters, Kull the Conqueror (1997), try to keep proceedings bouncy and energetic by way of tight editing and flashy split-screens. Similarly, Melfi’s screenplay, although predictable, keeps the protagonists’ dignity somewhat in tact, avoiding tired jokes that revolve around erectile dysfunction or gags that center on old folk not knowing how to use technology — heck, we even see Willie casually Skype his family at one point. Plus, it helps that its Oscar-winning stars are so charismatic, their running commentary while watching reality-show The Bachelorette, another of the film’s highlights.
As you’d expect, Michael Caine, Inception (2010), is solid as the caring Joe Harding, the guy who masterminds the whole ‘kooky’ idea; although the sadist in me wishes he had gone all ‘Harry Brown’ at some point in the story. Good ol’ Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption (1994), is wonderful as Willie, even if his unconvincing side plot, where he hides his life-threatening medical condition from his friends and family, isn’t. Alan Arkin, Argo (2012), who plays Albert, looks to be having a blast, too, his refreshing elderly romance with supermarket employee Annie (Ann-Margret) adding some much needed freshness to proceedings, the pair sharing some delightful moments together on screen. Elsewhere, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Men in Black (1997), is okay as Mitzi, a bubbly waitress who works at the men’s regular diner, whilst Saturday Night Live regular Kenan Thompson makes the most of his limited screen time as a mystified grocery store manager named Keith. Matt Dillon, There’s Something About Mary (1998), huffs and puffs as Hamer, the FBI agent tasked with investigating the city’s bank robberies, while Back to the Future’s Christopher Lloyd is completely wasted as lodge buddy Milton, whose dementia is used as a lame running gag of sorts. And don’t get me started on the sniveling Josh Pais, Touchy Feely (2013), who delivers the year’s most detestable performance (so far) as bank manager Chuck.
Fun fact: it’s interesting to note that the film was co-produced by Steven Mnuchin, a hedge-fund manager who was recently appointed secretary of the U.S. treasury by Donald Trump, the former making a substantial amount of cash during 2007-08’s financial crisis by investing in a mortgage bank that had a icky history of foreclosing on peoples’ houses. Go figure!
As far as feel-good fodder goes, Going in Style (while low on laughs) is as a tolerable time waster, the flick elevated by its enormously likable leads, Caine, Freeman and Arkin, who work well individually and as an ensemble. Nevertheless, had filmmaker Zach Braff and studio Warner Bros. stuck closer to the daring original or (at least) tried something different, I feel as though this ‘new’ Going in Style could’ve made a much swifter getaway!
2.5 / 5 – Alright
Reviewed by Mr. Movie