The best thing you can say about “Going in Style” is that it could have been a lot worse. No one was actually asking for a remake of the 1979 comedy about a trio of senior citizens who rob a bank. On the other hand, who among us is not happy to see Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin get a chance to strut their stuff?
And Ann-Margret. Good God, Ann-Margret. She has aged like many Hollywood glamour goddesses of her era — nary a wrinkle to be seen, and phooey to whatever you might say to that — but with playful sauciness intact. Just watching her dance circles around Arkin like a Jack Russell around a discombobulated basset hound is a joy.
Caine, Freeman, and Arkin play Joe, Willie, and Albert, three Brooklyn retirees who early on learn that their steel-mill pensions are being dissolved in a flurry of mergers and offshore outsourcing. Unlike the original movie, in which George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg stuck up a bank pretty much for the hell of it, the remake gives the heroes plenty of reasons for maximum audience sympathy. “These banks practically destroyed this country, and nothing ever happened to them,” splutters Joe after he has received a foreclosure notice from his neighborhood financial institution — the same bank that just happens to be handling the dissolution of his pension.
Joe needs his house, Willie needs a kidney, and Albert doesn’t need anything or anybody, even if he can’t resist the charms of a hotcha local grocery store clerk (Ann-Margret)(!). A plan is hatched, a test run shoplifting at the grocery store goes amusingly awry, and a real live bank robber (John Ortiz) is brought in as a consultant. He owns a pet shop and loves puppies so he can’t be all bad. It’s the kind of movie where the only villains are in suits.
To its credit, “Going in Style” avoids all the crudities usually attendant in movies about sassy oldsters. No Viagra jokes, nothing about how long it takes to pee, and there’s only one shot of an old lady dropping the F bomb. There’s a weed gag, but it’s a pretty funny one. In this day and age, such restraint is to be commended. Respect is given to the heroes, and a good deal of wisdom, and even, in the case of Arkin and Ann-Margret, halfway decent sex lives.
But neither does this movie have anything close to an edge or a personality that would render it more than a pleasantly forgettable hour and a half. It’s directed by actor Zach Braff (“Scrubs”) who, after the successful whimsy of “Garden State” (2004) and the disastrous whimsy of “Wish I Was Here” (2014), seems to be aspiring to a career as a Hollywood hack.
I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. “Going in Style” goes down extra easy and will please the broader (and older) audience that generally feels ill-served by modern movies. But the 1979 film was both more casual and much darker about the realities and infirmities of old age, and it had one of George Burns’s better performances. It was a funny, touching experience, and it was a bitter pill. The new movie is a placebo, with Hallmark emotions put over by a cast of
Said pros include the leads, of course, but also Matt Dillon as a puzzled FBI investigator, a very funny Kenan Thompson as the grocery store manager, Christopher Lloyd semi-reprising his Reverend Jim character from “Taxi” as a senile coot, Joey King as Joe’s granddaughter, and a crucial little girl played by Annabelle Chow. They vanquish all pesky real-world questions, including the most glaring one: Why doesn’t Joe just sell that Brooklyn brownstone with a view of the bridge to a hedge fund manager for $5 million and move everyone to Aruba?
Going in Style
Directed by Zach Braff. Written by Theodore Melfi, based on the 1979 movie. Starring Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, Ann-Margret, Matt Dillon. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 96 minutes. PG-13 (drug content, language, some suggestive material, Ann-Margret).Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.