D: Zach Braff / 96m
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin, Ann-Margret, Matt Dillon, John Ortiz, Peter Serafinowicz, Joey King, Maria Dizzia, Josh Pais, Christopher Lloyd
Three old friends – Willie (Freeman), Joe (Caine), and Albert (Arkin) – have worked for the same steel company for over thirty years. But when the company decides to transfer all of its manufacturing abroad, all three find their jobs are gone and that their pensions are being used to facilitate the overseas set up. For Joe it’s even worse: without his pension he won’t be able to keep up the mortgage repayments on his home, and in a month will be evicted, along with his daughter, Rachel (Dizzia), and granddaughter Brooklyn (King). But Joe has the germ of an idea. Why not rob the bank that’s overseeing the liquidation of the pension funds, take only what they need personally, and give any money left over to charity?
Joe has gotten the idea because he was there when the bank was robbed only a few days before. Three masked bank robbers got away with over a million dollars, and the police, led by FBI Agent Hamer (Dillon), haven’t got any leads at all. Figuring that if the bank robbers can do it, then they can do it, Joe voices his idea to his friends. Willie, who desperately needs a kidney transplant, agrees to it more readily than Albert, who takes some convincing, but soon all three are on board. They put their stealing skills to the test at a local store, but are easily caught. This embarrassing failure at least tells them they need “professional” help. Through Joe’s ne’er-do-well ex-son-in-law, Murphy (Serafinowicz), they’re put in touch with a criminal-cum-pet store owner named Jesus (Ortiz). He agrees to help them, and soon they’re putting a plan into action that involves robbing the bank using their lodge’s carnival day as cover. But during the robbery, Willie’s identity is compromised, and though they get away with enough money to help clear their debts, FBI Agent Hamer is hot on their trail…
Another month, another remake, another reason to wonder if Hollywood has any idea why certain movies work and the majority of their remakes don’t. On paper, Going in Style has a lot going for it. It has a top-notch cast, its director has a brash, indie sensibility that could add an edge to proceedings, it has a screenplay from the co-writer/director of Hidden Figures (2016), and is a reworking of a movie that many regard with fondness even if it didn’t exactly set the box office alight. In short, and in baseball parlance, it should have been a home run. However, what we do have is a movie that settles for being bland and innocuous, and which wants its audience to have a fairly okay time with it, and not really an uproarious one. It keeps its ambitions quiet, plays things squarely by the book, and not once attempts anything that might upset the status quo. It’s as close to moviemaking by committee as you’re likely to get.
The script, by Theodore Melfi, trades on various forms of humour, but adopts a lightweight, unassuming tone that ensures the trio’s attempts to steal from their local store – this is how bright they are! – is the movie’s comedy highpoint. After that, the bank robbery itself is an exercise in gentle whimsy, with Willie ending up reassuring a little girl and potentially putting the trio in danger of being apprehended later. There are chuckles to be had, and plenty to smile good-naturedly about, but nothing else to make the viewer laugh out loud. For a comedy, Going in Style is a pretty good heist caper, but even then it refuses to do anything to make events feel fresh or remarkable. If you want belly laughs, or a long succession of jokes and one-liners, then this isn’t the movie you’re looking for.
With the movie suffering from more than just a hint of creative ennui, it plods through its various plot contrivances and unconvincing character development with all the energy of a narcolepsy sufferer on their fifth nap of the day. Counting heavily on its cast to signpost the laughs (and then act accordingly), the movie skips lightly from one scene to another, and rarely stops long enough to add any appreciable depth or additional layers to its bare bones storyline. Thankfully, the movie’s cast have been around for a while, and know how to elevate thin material, though there are still moments that defeat them (e.g. anytime Caine has to play doting grandfather to King’s annoyingly chirpy granddaughter). Arkin is the movie’s lucky charm though, making the grumpy, defeatist Albert its MVP, and making the viewer wish he had more screen time.
Overseeing it all is actor turned director Braff, making his third feature and showing a limited amount of enthusiasm for a project that he hasn’t written himself. Perhaps the characters just aren’t quirky enough, or have enough issues to be dealing with, for Braff to be interested, but there are long stretches where his indie style of moviemaking is absent, and is replaced by a director-for-hire vibe that fits in well with the movie’s corporate, take-no-risks attitude. Maybe it was the chance to work with such a great cast that persuaded him, but judged on the final result, this won’t add much lustre to Braff’s burgeoning career as a director (unless he’s offered similar projects).
But when all is said and done, and despite the movie being as ludicrous as you’d expect, it’s entirely necessary for movies like Going in Style to be seen on our screens. While they may offer stress-free paydays for their casts and crews, and while they may also offer an amount of generic material that could only be beaten by a low-budget horror movie, movies such as this one are the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. You know what to expect, and watching the movie will be an easy, minor pleasure, one you may even want to repeat at some point. Its lightweight, undemanding nature will attract viewers just as its cast will, and anyone looking for an hour and a half where they can kick back and leave their brain behind, will find this a pleasing experience that won’t tax them in the slightest.
For its target demographic (and it’s safe to assume it’s fans of the cast rather than fans of the original), Going in Style will be warmly received and, in all likelihood, it’ll gain more fans through word of mouth. Over time, some movies gain a reputation that they didn’t have when the movie was first released. This may be one of them, even though it’s too early to tell. What is certain is that right now, it’s a movie that lacks enough imagination to make it stand out from all the other remakes out there, and while it has heart and a degree of charm that’s entirely down to the efforts of its leading men, it’s not quite memorable enough to woo audiences in the long term.
Rating: 5/10 – good-natured and sweet it may be, but these are attributes that could have benefitted from being “roughed up” a little bit, and in doing so, made Going in Style more appealing; as it is, the movie moves along at a steady (though not quite geriatric) pace and manages to tick all the boxes on the path of least resistance to its eventual, and entirely predictable, denouement.