Going in Style (2017)Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 04/08/17 00:23:32
For those who haven’t seen it in a long time, the 1979 film “Going in Style” is most likely remembered as a genial caper comedy in which George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg play three old men who, desperate to relieve the monotony of their lives and figuring they have nothing left to lose, don Groucho Marx disguises and knock over a local bank. In actuality, the film, which marked the major studio debut of writer-director Martin Brest, included a surprising amount of serious moments that dealt with the frustration of the three old men who spent their lives following all the rules only to end up living together in a tiny apartment on their skimpy monthly Social Security checks. Heck, a couple of the characters didn’t even make it to the final scenes that featured a triumph of a decidedly muted nature. It was precisely these elements that gave the film its flavor but it is hard to imagine that they would have survived had the film been made today—if the darker material had somehow managed to make it through the script approval process, there is an excellent chance that test audiences would have been so against it that it would have all been consigned to the cutting room floor and there would have been reshoots to give it an ending that audiences and studio executives might consider to be more palatable.Actually, you don’t have to imagine it because now we have a remake of “Going in Style” that is absent of all the darker and quirkier material, along with most of the wit and practically all of the point. With all of those elements gone and with nothing much of value replacing them, the resulting film is nothing more than an empty-headed caper comedy that struggles to mine laughs from dated jokes mild racism and other dubious forma of entertainment while counting on the undeniable charm of the Oscar-winning triumvirate Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin to put the whole mess over. Alas, not even their considerable combined talents can pull that off, though they do probably give the material far more life than it really deserves.
Although the basic concept is the same, screenwriter Ted Melfi and director Zach Braff have updated the story in ways are notable for how unnecessary they really are. Joe (Caine), Willie (Freeman) and Albert (Arkin) are three old friends struggling to get by in the new economy when each is hit with a personal disaster—Joe was screwed over by his bank when refinancing the home he shares with his daughter and granddaughter and is about to lose it, Willie is in desperate need of an expensive kidney transplant and Albert finds himself having to spurn the attentions of the flirtatious Annie (Ann-Margaret) because he lives with Willie and has no place to take her. One day, while visiting his bank in order to plead his case regarding his imminent foreclosure, Joe witnesses a “Heat”-style bank robbery in which a trio of masked men storm in, grab a couple of million dollars and disappear with no muss, no fuss and nobody getting hurt or caught along the way. Before long, Joe decides that the solution to all of their problems is to knock over a bank themselves, though Willie and Albert are not exactly in agreement with them.
Things quickly get worse for them when the plant where the three all worked is bought out and the pensions they need to barely eke out a living are dissolved in the process, the idea of a robbery begins to look more appealing and when it turns out that the bank that is screwing Joe is the same one in charge of the pension liquidation, all three are finally on board. Alas, once a test run shoplifiting at the local grocery store goes poorly, they decide that they require professional help and with the aid of Joe’s deadbeat former son-in-law (Peter Serafinowicz), they hook up with Jesus (John Ortiz), who offers to teach them the ropes in exchange for a cut of the take. Before long, the three have whipped together a plan for hitting the bank that is so elaborate that the guys from “Ocean’s Eleven” might have suggested that they simplify. From this point, the bulk of the film is devoted to the three attempting to both pull off the crime and then escape the pursuit of Hamer (Matt Dillon), a dopey FBI agent who is convinced that the three did it but is having trouble actually proving it.
Doing a remake of “Going in Style” by taking the basic premise and then spinning it off into a new direction is not necessarily a bad idea in theory but what Melfi and Braff have come up with here is so dreadful that it almost feels as though it is trying to wipe out the entire concept of remakes by offering up one so lame that it kills the appeal of such things. The comedic conceits trotted out here are so hackneyed that they would have felt old and tired if Martin Brest had dared to employ them nearly forty years ago—this is a film that tries to get laughs out of such cutting-edge concepts as marijuana, old people having sex, really old people acting weird and forgetful, “The Bachelor” and the sight of an African-American woman whose face has been accidentally dusted with flour. Of course, any of those things (with the possibility of the latter one) could possibly serve as the inspiration for something funny but Melfi and Braff seem convinced that just mentioning them is itself pure hilarity. The closest the film gets to actual hilarity comes during the allegedly heartfelt moments in which Joe tries to get his ex-son-in-law to reconnect with the granddaughter (Joey King) he dotes on so that he can pick up the slack if he is arrested or Willie despairing that his bum kidney will keep him from ever seeing his beloved granddaughter, who has a wristwatch bearing her face that follows Chekov’s maxim that if a novelty timepiece is introduced in the first act, it must go off in the last one. (As for Albert, his sufferings pretty much go away once he discovers that Annie actually has her own place from which to engage in any potential canoodling.) Oh, and for the allegedly topical concept of folding in current-day financial chicanery into the piece as a way of making the story ostensibly more relevant? It turns out that after bringing up the topic just long enough to supply a clip for the trailers and talk show appearances, this aspect is then summarily ignored to such a degree that you wonder why they even bothered to introduce it in the first place.
The script is so bad—so desperately unfunny, painfully mawkish and awkwardly contrived—that not even the three stars, each of whom has appeared in more than their share of terrible movies throughout their respective long and reasonably illustrious careers, can do much of anything with it. Now Caine, Freeman and Arkin have good chemistry together—I saw them appear together on the “Today” show a couple of weeks ago shilling for the film and the segment proved to be more amusing that a lot of recent films (in hindsight, however, it was perhaps telling that they spent more time talking about “The Bonfire of the Vanities”—in which the already hired Arkin was fired so that his role could be given to Freeman in a misguided attempt to balance the racial scales—than the movie they were there to promote). Early on, there are a couple of scenes in which their kibitzing is reasonably entertaining but once they get sucked into the mechanics of the plot, they all pretty much go on autopilot. Put it this way—as convoluted caper films co-starring Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman go, I would not necessarily that this was flat-out worse than the “Now You See Me” movies but it is bad enough to make such a comparison worth contemplating. As for Ann-Margaret, she is, alas, completely wasted in a role so thinly drawn that it makes her early sexpot roles in films like “The Swinger” and the immortal “Kitten with a Whip” seem weighty and substantial by comparison but it has to be said, she knows how to turn on the star quality and sex appeal in such a way that will leave several generations of viewers stupefied in the best possible way.As a whole, however, “Going in Style” is likely to leave them stupefied in the worst possible way—it wastes a perfectly good movie and a number of beloved acting legends and solidifies Zach Braff’s position as one of the most absolutely insufferable filmmakers working today. Probably the best thing about is its complete disposability—as bad as it is, it is still the kind of film that will be almost completely forgotten by most moviegoers within six months. Unfortunately, once it finally lands in the realm of perpetual appearances on basic cable channels that you don’t quite remember ordering, it will go on to confound and annoy future moviegoers who will see the title in the program listings and turn it on in the mistaken belief that it is the original. Of course, they can then quickly switch to something better while anyone who gets suckered into seeing it in a theater will have to actually get out of their seat and wander to another auditorium in the multiplex to accomplish that. That shouldn’t be too difficult because unless your local movie complex is only showing this and “Ghost in the Shell,” it would be almost impossible to find something worse.
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