Going in Style is a baffling blend of tones that ultimately plays as a harmless piece of fluff devoid of any significant stakes.
Joe (Michael Caine), Willie (Morgan Freeman), and Al (Alan Arkin) are three lifelong friends who spent decades working together for a steel factory. Towards the end of their lives, each one is worse for wear and has a variety of issues to deal with, which only become exacerbated when they learn their pensions are being dissolved as the company transitions from America to Vietnam. The news could not come at a worse possible time for Joe, who is in danger of losing his house after failing to meet his rising mortgage prices.
One day while at the bank to try to fix his situation, Joe witnesses a highly-successful robbery, where a group of masked criminals abscond with millions of dollars and disappear without a trace, leaving the authorities running in circles. Impressed by what he saw, Joe gets a wild idea: orchestrate a bank robbery of his own to steal his pension payments back from the very bank that’s taking them from him. Recruiting Willie and Al to his cause, the senior citizens agree to go through with the job so they can continue to support their families financially.
Going in Style is a remake of a lesser-known 1979 film of the same name that starred George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg. Whereas that movie was more of a drama with comedic elements, the 2017 version strives to be a light-hearted laugher placing its own team of acclaimed actors in the spotlight for one last hurrah. Despite the talents of the three leads, the film isn’t always successful in carrying out its goals. Going in Style is a baffling blend of tones that ultimately plays as a harmless piece of fluff devoid of any significant stakes.
Director Zach Braff’s approach is very much a mixed bag. The former Scrubs star looks to combine the fun caper elements of Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven (where famous actors robbed a casino for our own amusement) against the backdrop of some rather serious real-world issues reminiscent of last year’s Oscar-nominated drama Hell or High Water. The whimsical fantasy of a bunch of geezers organizing a heist clashes against pressing matters like foreclosures and health concerns. This is a problem because Braff leans far too heavily on the comedy, making directorial choices that sap the film of any kind of meaningful emotional impact. Going in Style is a bit too wacky and sentimental for its own good, when it would have benefitted from injecting some biting satire that sheds a light on problems plaguing society, instead of being just a wild ride.
As expected, Caine, Freeman, and Arkin are the highlights of the film, elevating it as much as they can with their natural screen presence and abilities. Nobody is going to consider these performances among the best in any of their acclaimed careers, but the three Oscar winners don’t mail it in and show why they’re professionals. They work great together as a group, demonstrating the easygoing chemistry one would imagine longtime friends would have. Of the three, Caine’s Joe is more or less the primary protagonist, getting some key emotional beats that involve his family he desperately cares for. Arkin does another amusing riff on his usual “grumpy curmudgeon” archetype, and Freeman strikes a nice balance between the comedy and drama. Audiences should be entertained by watching the legends in action, even if they’re not breaking any new ground.
Unfortunately, the supporting cast is severely underwritten. The script by Theodore Melfi rightfully gives Joe, Willie, and Al most of the screen time, but everyone else is simply a stock character without much to contribute. Matt Dillon plays FBI agent Hammer, who investigates the bank robbery, but he’s nothing more than a two-dimensional foil for the main crew and comes across as a cliché. The same can be said for John Ortiz’s Jesus, who is a generic career criminal that agrees to help the old-timers out with their task. Ann-Margaret is wasted in a thankless role as Al’s love interest Annie – a subplot that feels largely unnecessary and feels unearned by the movie’s end. Arkin and Margaret’s flirting feels more awkward than sweet and doesn’t add much to the final product. Kenan Thompson as a grocery story manager is perhaps the most memorable side character who delivers the biggest laughs, but his part is far too brief to make up for other shortcomings.
Another weak aspect of the screenplay is its over-reliance on “old people jokes” that at times come across as mocking than wholesome. An unfortunate running gag involving Christopher Lloyd’s Milton is a notable illustration of this, and some may feel uncomfortable with what Braff and Melfi are suggesting they laugh at. This remake also lacks the thematic subtext about coming to terms with one’s advancing age and finding peace in your final days, so there isn’t a whole lot for viewers to get invested in. The story, while briskly paced, simply goes through the motions and constantly chooses the safe route, making the end result predictable and mundane. There’s nothing wrong with making a crowd-pleaser, but Going in Style doesn’t possess the dramatic sensibilities needed to be a memorable experience.
In the end, Going in Style is just fine for what it is, but given the people involved, it could have been a little more. Caine, Freeman, and Arkin are as game as ever, but they are dragged down by a bizarre approach to the proceedings that makes it seem more like a comedy sketch than an actual caper film. Die-hard fans of the principal actors could find some enjoyment out of it (especially if they are of a certain age), but with minimal stakes and little laughs to be had, Going in Style seems like a missed opportunity instead of a worthwhile comedy.
Going in Style is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 96 minutes and is rated PG-13 for drug content, language, and some suggestive material.
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