If Hollywood is really so keen on remaking 1979 crime comedy/drama Going in Style, then it’s easy to consider this new version to be something of a best-case scenario, at least in terms of its casting. While the original united George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg as three senior citizens who decide to stage a bank robbery, the 2017 edition brings out three Academy Award-winning legends in Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin. But a film cannot live or die solely by the stars leading the charge, can it?
Going in Style certainly puts that question to the test. The three leading men bring their decades of experience to the screen with little effort, elevating the material with every second that each of them appears onscreen. Caine is essentially our protagonist here as Joe, the character who’s inspired to recoup his lost pension by robbing the bank where his money is held. It’s he who recruits his two friends Willie (Freeman) and Albert (Arkin) to plan the heist, and in the process, Caine winds up shouldering the bulk of the story throughout. Thankfully, it’s hard to imagine a more charming, capable actor than him to keep a film like this – one that so casually flirts with cliche and melodrama – afloat.
Freeman, meanwhile, carries much of the film’s heart on his very sleeve, and Arkin takes on the most purely comedic role as a curmudgeon only a few shades away from his performance a decade ago in Little Miss Sunshine. In fact, none of the stars of Going in Style are stretching too far away from their comfort zones, including Ann-Margret (who has a role that’s eerily similar to the one she played in Grumpy Old Men back in the 1990s). Yet, one cannot begrudge Going in Style for relying so heavily on its iconic stars, as their collective charisma could light up any film. In addition to those already mentioned, Going in Style is lucky enough to have a veritable who’s who of recognizable faces in its back pocket, including Kenan Thompson, Joey King, John Ortiz, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Peter Serafinowicz and Christopher Lloyd.
Thematically, the film has the potential to be The Big Short for retirement-age moviegoers, in that both movies reckon with the post-recession world in which financial injustices appear to be more rampant than ever. Yet, director Zach Braff – having earned indie cred with 2004 debut Garden State and stumbled with his Kickstarter-funded 2014 sophomore effort Wish I Was Here – doesn’t appear to have much interest in delving too deep into this headier theme beyond using it to propel the plot forward. After all, Going in Style is first and foremost a lighthearted comedy more concerned with the unlikelihood of three near-octogenarians turning to crime than the complex nature of the society that pushes them to that point.
This aspect of the story also opens up the possibility for the film to use the desperate situation Joe and his friends find themselves in as a commentary on what it means to get old and the weight of knowing the inevitability of leaving everyone you love behind sooner rather than later. It’s a question of legacy that looms over the men’s plan, and it’s easy to see a different version of this film – effectively, though un-ambitiously, scripted by filmmaker Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures) – that dared to take a closer emotional look at what’s really at stake if they do get caught. However, Going in Style sails right by this avenue too in its pursuit of a slight Hollywood caper film, the kind that moviegoers can enjoy and then shake off before even reaching their rides home.
In the end, that’s what Going in Style is: a fun enough, funny enough comedy featuring some legendary actors yukking it up and taking a break in between the more substantive projects on their docket. There’s nothing about the film that inherently makes it a must-see, but yet the opportunity to watch Caine, Freeman and Arkin share the screen in as pleasant a movie as this should be enough for most viewers to overlook the logical gaps and unchallenging nature of its narrative to simply have a good time. Braff fans looking for their next hit of hipster-friendly self-discovery will find little trace of his earlier aesthetic here, but largely it’s pretty clear that all those involved knew what kind of film they were setting out to make, and that’s ultimately what makes Going in Style a worthwhile albeit unsurprising trip to the movies.
Going in Style doesn't bring much imagination or innovation to the world of crime comedies, but its legendary stars enhance the experience enough to make it passable entertainment.