Going in Style (2017) is too complacent a movie for its own good, a comedy that’s too much in awe of its venerable cast and way more bent on pleasing the crowd than it is in making them laugh. After all, good will only gets the humor halfway there.
The subjects of the good old “doing what they can with what they’re given” lament are Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin, three Academy Award winners with a combined age of 245 years who’re probably having more fun than they’re providing. There is some pleasure in watching these seasoned thespians leave support mode to take the center stage for a change, if only to unwind in an insipid little comedy. Even Christopher ‘Doc Brown’ Lloyd shows up for some senility gags. And will you look at Ann-Margret, still a radiant babe at 75.
Old-timers Joe (Caine), Willie (Freeman) and Al (Arkin) have been laid off the factory after some three decades of hard, thankless labor, and the bank has frozen their pensions. Joe’s about to lose the house he shares with his daughter and granddaughter. What to do? He’s inspired to rob the bank after witnessing a robbery himself, and soon enlists the aid of his buddies. Worst case scenario, they end up with a roof, three square meals a day and better healthcare than they have right now.
The plot is a remake of the 1979 Martin Brest movie starring George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg, in which three elderly friends decide to rob a bank. It was a more pessimistic story, with a streak of black humor and a characteristically 1970s downer ending. This version, directed by Scrubs‘ Zach Braff, seems to have been made on the premise that everything would be the exact opposite, so instead we’re treated to a bland, gun-shy, feel-good remake that ends with a conga line of deus ex machinae so contrived even Sophocles would roll his eyes at them.
The issue here isn’t the story itself but rather that Braff and screenwriter Theodore Melfi are either unwilling or incapable of exploiting every potentially comical scenario in which their trio of bumbling elders falls into, opting instead to sing their praises or making them look cool while humiliating their arrogant, younger adversaries (Josh Pais as a banker prone to hysterics, Matt Dillon as a morose FBI investigator). All of which is very satisfying, you see, at a very elemental level, but does not make for hilarity. Comedy always has an element of self-deprecation – none of which is to be found here. You’d think JD would know better.
Take, for instance, the scene in which Willie is forced to curl up inside the basket of Joe’s getaway scooter. You’d think the sight of Morgan Freeman all tuckered into a bike basket would make for a humorous scene, but no effort has been made to make it funny. Freeman neither plays up his dignified persona nor does he react with sufficient humiliation, he simply goes along with the Gilligan school of humor (“I’ll never do X”, followed by guess what).
The point is the scene isn’t inherently funny, and that the whole movie seems to have been made on the false notion that things are inherently funny, without really playing anything up, down or to any effect. When we smile at the bickering between Joe, Willie and Al it’s because we enjoy the chemistry between these great actors (Arkin in particular, who was a funny curmurdgeon long before he got old). But then we have Braff’s bland sense of direction, and a musical score so annoyingly bent on dictating the movie beat by beat you could probably watch the whole thing just by listening to it.
The humor is facile, the jokes don’t have any bite to them and overall the movie feels like a waste of time, both of its actors and the audience.
Benjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).