Going in Style, Zach Braff’s new remake of Martin Brest’s 1979 old-guys-rob-a-bank flick, is under no delusions of grandeur. If for whatever reason, you go into Going in Style expecting surprising twists, profound social commentary, or creative filmmaking, you will be sorely disappointed. But I doubt that applies to just about anything. As the film’s marketing campaign has made explicitly clear, the entire reason for this film’s existence is for Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Alan Arkin share the screen and make old guy jokes. In that regard, Going in Style more or less succeeds.
The film begins with Caine’s Joe entering his increasingly high-tech bank to complain about not receiving his pension payments the foreclosure notices he has received for the house he shares with his daughter and granddaughter. He and his banker (Josh Pais) are interrupted by a bank robbery. One of the robbers tells Joe that the bank is the intended target of their crime, not the bank’s victims. When he meets up with his neighbors and former coworkers, Freeman’s Willie and Arkin’s Albert (they share a widower-pad) he discovers that they too have not received their pension payments recently. The trio soon learn that due to their old company’s increasing reliance on outsourcing, they cannot give out pensions. Upon hearing this, the plans for a bank robbery commence.
I might personally have wished to see some commentary on how relentless globalization is victimizing the elderly, but clearly this isn’t the film for that. This backdrop is not a theme, but a set of circumstances that can easily support a number of comic set-pieces including, but not limited to: Caine and Freeman smoking a joint; a remarkably inept supermarket “test” robbery; Arkin’s budding and physically passionate relationship with, of all people, Ann-Margret. All of these are funny, you see, because the three actors are really old; Caine is 84, Arkin is 83, and Freeman will be 80 in June. A trio of Oscar winning lions in winter stuffing frozen pork loin in their baggy shirts is, judging from some of the reactions at the screening I attended, the peak of comedy.
When Going in Style goes for broad slapstick comedy, the results are groan-worthy. Braff, in his first major-studio for-hire gig (the screenplay was written by Hidden Figures writer-director Theodore Melfi), is stylistically grating. He consistently goes big and broad when the film can be quite pleasant in its quieter, gentler moments. Freeman and Caine, in particular, have an easy, relaxed chemistry. Every moment they share convincingly intimates the lifelong bonds indicated in the film’s premise. Caine’s also rather touching in the scenes he shares with his granddaughter (Joey King), although an abrupt subplot involving her estranged father is baffling. Arkin’s Albert is the most skeptical of the trio towards the planned bank-robbery which makes sense because, unfortunately, Arkin does not appear to be enjoying himself nearly as much as his castmates. Caine and Freeman’s performances are those of actors who can make a naked cash-grab look less cynical; Arkin’s is the performance of an actor who realized too late he should never have said yes to this.
If all three actors were having a ball, I might be less inclined to picture the “quality” version of Going in Style, because what audiences get here is far from catastrophic. The issue is that all three actors would appear to be in great health and capable of great work. There is a really terrific heist film to be made involving three retirees who rob a bank out of financial desperation and these three would be prime candidates for the central roles. Then again, nobody should begrudge these threes for taking easy paychecks at this point given their remarkable CV’s. I’d still feel a little better about it if Arkin agreed with me.