Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin are three of the most accomplished actors working in films these days. Any of them can take a so-so script and give it enough energy to lift it to a higher level.
It took all three of them to do that for “Going In Style,” the remake of the 1979 film that featured accomplished veteran actors George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg. Under the direction of former “Scrubs” star, Zach Braff, the new take on the senior citizen bank heist tale is little more than a glorified sitcom story saved only slightly by the first-rate casting.
There’s no edge to the new film, an oddity since the original film had a very dark side. And Braff has shown an ability to infuse his work with a vein of reality as in “Garden State” and “Wish I Was Here.” That’s all been spirited away and it’s up to the veteran cast to make what’s left work.
Joe (Caine), Willie (Freeman) and Albert (Arkin) are best friends and neighbors who spent decades working for the same manufacturing company. The security they expected in their old age is ripped away when their pensions are dissolved.
Faced with a life where they can’t even pay the rent, Joe comes up with the idea they should rob a bank. Best-case scenario is they live out their lives with plenty of money. Worst case, they go to prison where they will have a home and a better health plan than they have as free men.
This plan plays out in a series of cartoonish steps including a low-speed chase scene after a test robbery at a local market. The sight of Freeman bouncing around in the basket on the front of a motorized scooter is an example of the safe comedy lines taken.
What could have been an interesting commentary on the plight of senior citizens gives way to sophomoric jokes. There’s a scene of the three men watching a rose ceremony on “The Bachelorette” that is as painful to watch as a rose ceremony on “The Bachelorette.”
It is painful to watch the talented Christopher Lloyd playing a burned-out senior who has fewer brain cells than his character from “Taxi.”
It’s always a cheap laugh talking about the sex life of seniors. One such joke is tolerable but the script by Theodore Melfi based on the original story penned by Edward Cannon, becomes an endless cavalcade of such humor. Arkin deserves better and so does Ann-Margret, who plays the most sex-crazy senior since Blanche on “The Golden Girls.”
“Going in Style” is at its best when the three main stars are allowed to go at the story with the style and grace that has made them acting treasures. There are small snippets mostly when Joe and Willie are dealing with their grandchildren. But, even great actors can elevate a weak script only so far.
Caine, Freeman and Arkin also have to deal with a time when Hollywood plays it very safe. A version of “Going In Style” that matched the one from the ’70s would never be done today because of the obsession with happy endings. That means the edge has been planed down to a dull finish.
It’s great that veteran actors can keep getting work and they have every right to make a mindless bit of entertainment. It really ends up being a shame when you see how much they can get out of a mediocre script and knowing what this could have been with a little more writing and directing effort.