Saturday, April 8, 2017

Codger Robbers: "Going in Style" a safe, amiable excuse to watch old pros


Going in Style (2017)
96 min., rated PG-13.

1993’s “Grumpy Old Men” and 1995’s “Grumpier Old Men.” 1997’s “Out to Sea.” 2000’s “Space Cowboys” and “The Crew.” 2013’s “Last Vegas.” One can count on more than one hand the number of comedies revolving around old fogies going back to their youth and the good old days, and by now, it is a moldy genre all its own. “Going in Style,” however, is a remake of the 1979 comedy that starred George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg, and with the likes of today’s acting legends, this comedic caper with a timely of-our-times backdrop goes down pretty gently. Surprises are few in 2017's inconsequential, albeit amiable, “Going in Style,” but director Zach Braff (2014’s “Wish I Was Here”) and screenwriter Theodore Melfi (2016’s “Hidden Figures”) have such an unbeatable trio set in place that it makes the filmmakers’ jobs that much easier.

Joe (Michael Caine), Willie (Morgan Freeman), and Al (Alan Arkin) are retired Brooklyn seventysomethings who have been friends for more than thirty years. When Joe learns that the mortgage payment on his house has tripled, he hopes to settle the situation at his bank, where at the same moment three men rob the place. In awe of the robbers' skill as a witness, Joe flirts with the idea of pulling off a heist with his two pals, particularly once it’s announced that their former steel mill is freezing all pensions. Roommates Willie and Al initially think Joe is just joking, but once realizing that they have nothing left to lose—the former needs a kidney transplant and only sees his daughter and granddaughter via Skype, and the latter could just use one last hurrah—these two get on board. Even if they get caught and thrown in prison, at least Joe, Willie, and Al can go out with a bang and then have free housing and better medical care. 

Unlike the hacky, overly unctuous “Last Vegas" (which also starred Morgan Freeman), “Going in Style” does not feel the need to pander and constantly reach the lowest-common-denominator. Though the humor does often fall into easy shtick, this is decidedly the better film of the two. It should hardly be a rarity, but one can count their blessings that this one is mercifully free of Viagra jokes and technological ineptitude (i.e. none of the fellas are confused by iPhones or how to operate a computer). Amidst the shenanigans played for laughs, the one nugget of truth in Theodore Melfi’s script is the fact that our three protagonists of a certain age are experiencing a financial crisis in today’s zeitgeist, so, of course, they see it as more than a lark to rob a bank and take back what is theirs.

All playing familiar versions of their on-screen personas, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin aren't out to challenge themselves or snag Oscars for next year. It's apparent that they're having fun together, and watching these three strut their stuff and never break a sweat with their collective charm and charisma is not a bad excuse to kill an hour and a half. The supporting cast is a fine bunch, including Matt Dillon, Christopher Lloyd, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Maria Dizzia, Joey King, Kenan Thompson, and John Ortiz. Ann-Margret, nearly reprising her character from “Grumpy Old Men,” is also always delightful to see, even when her only function here is to play the overtly flirtatious Annie who would like to get it on with the irascible Al.

Considering director Zack Braff showcased more personality behind the camera thirteen years ago in “Garden State,” this is surely an impersonal, even forgettable, studio project for him. He tries to inject verve and energy with the overuse of split screens and pushy instances of broad mugging—Josh Pais is particularly annoying as a bank manager—and one of those generically jaunty comedy music scores obtrudes every now and then. With that said, “Going in Style” is a “nice movie.” It’s never once hilarious, but it is a mildly amusing, safely good-natured crowd-pleaser with more giggles than groans. A trial-run robbery—the guys shoplift food from a local grocery store—followed by their getaway in a motorized shopping cart gets the film’s biggest laugh, while seeing a couple of the geezers get high, or Alan Arkin and Ann-Margret in the sack, is as edgy as things get. Without the caliber of these three senior pros, the film might not have much else going for it, but generally, being in the pleasant company of Caine, Freeman, and Arkin is just enough.

Grade: C +

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