There are scenes in Going in Style of Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin sitting around around shooting the shit, moaning over the choices made on TV’s The Bachelorette or openly pining about how many years they have left.
These are, clearly, the best scenes the film has to offer. It’s not long before we get the impression that 90 minutes of unedited improv between the three stars would have been preferable to the listless storyline we’re treated to instead.
It’s a retelling of the 1979 movie of the same name, and one of the more obscure choices for a remake nearly 30 years later. That film, written and directed by Martin Brest (Midnight Run) starred master comedian George Burns, Oscar winner Art Carney, and no less than the father of modern acting, Lee Strasburg, as a trio of senior citizens who become so bored with their existence that they decide to rob a bank, just for kicks.
It’s a great little premise, but you’ll excuse the filmmakers behind this remake for fundamentally screwing it up: here, the old guys have their pensions revoked and houses foreclosed on. They need to rob that bank, or they’ll end up on the street.
I can imagine the forces behind this remake theorizing that this new motivation gives the film more weight, higher stakes, and the kind of real-life drama that audiences in 2017 can relate to.
Instead, they turn the film into every other film about sympathetic bank robbers (see last year’s Hell or High Water, for example, which featured the exact same catalyst) and deprive the story not only of its original comic twist, but also it’s dramatic backbone: beyond the loneliness, the sheer boredom of growing old.
Here, the characters played by Caine, Freeman, and Arkin resort to armed robbery to solve their own financial woes – and they’ll only steal what they would have received via their pensions, and give the rest to charity – while exacting revenge on the bank that screwed them over.
Only problem: they can’t even shoplift without getting caught red-handed. So they recruit a pro (played by John Ortiz) to assist them, and cue the training montage where they learn the ropes and get in shape before the big heist.
The rest of the film plays out like Michael Mann’s Heat as a comedy directed by Brett Ratner, with a dimwitted police detective (Matt Dillon) on the case and stakes so low we wish he’d catch the old geezers just so something, anything, of interest happens.
A minor subplot offers some appeal, or at least a reprieve from the formula, when the gang turns to Caine’s deadbeat son-in-law (Peter Serafinowicz) for advice. The character doesn’t hold any bearing on the story, but actually sticks around for the rest of the film and tries to be a better father. Good for him.
The ageless Ann-Margaret, who was also featured in the similarly-focused Grumpy Old Men movies starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau two decades ago, appears here as a potential love interest for Arkin’s character. Christopher Lloyd is on hand for some dementia-themed comic relief.
Going in Style was adapted from the 1979 movie by Theodore Melfi, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker behind last year’s Oscar-nominated Hidden Figures, and directed by former Scrubs star Zach Braff, who received praise for his 2004 debut Garden State and scorn when he funded his next project through Kickstarter.
Neither seem to make any significant creative contribution here; this Going in Style is formula all the way.