By Aaron Rourke (Melbourne, Australia)
About as wrongheaded as a remake can get, this slick update of the 1979 Martin Brest film strips away everything that made the original such a layered, emotionally involving classic, alternatively replacing it with cheap laughs and push-button sentimentality.
The basic set-up is still the same. Three elderly citizens, Joe (Michael Caine), Willie (Morgan Freeman), and Al (Alan Arkin), live their life in an uneventful manner, performing a clockwork routine that includes visiting the local park, and frequenting a nearby diner. Surviving on the pension provided to them by the large steel manufacturer where the group worked at for thirty-plus years, problems set in when the financially strapped company decide to close their local factories and outsource their business to Vietnam. As they are now considered a foreign operation, the CEO’s promptly shut down the pension fund, and use the money to pay off any local debt.
This has an instant effect on everyone. Willie and Al now have no income to pay their rent, while Joe, who was shoe-horned into a shady mortgage plan by his heartless bank manager, is about to have his place taken from him by the financial institution he has been a loyal customer with for decades. This will also impact on Joe’s daughter Rachel (Maria Dizzia) and grand-daughter Brooklyn (Joey King), as they reside under the same roof.
When Joe’s bank is robbed while he is there remonstrating with the flippant employee who sold him the inappropriate plan, Joe decides he will do the same thing, thinking that he has nothing to lose, knowing he and his family will be on the street in 30 days. Convincing his fellow friends to join him, the trio feel they deserve a better life, one that is free of soulless corporate oppression. Employing the services of criminal Jesus (John Ortiz), the trio begin to put together a plan that will hopefully see them live out their final years in a very comfortable fashion. If they don’t succeed, at least the group will have free room and board for years to come.
Going in Style (2017) is aggressively lightweight, guiding potentially thought-provoking subject matter with the softest hand possible. The idea of seeing a post-GFC world through the eyes of the elderly is a fascinating one, but it totally eludes screenwriter Theodore Melfi (who recently co-wrote and directed the Oscar-winning smash Hidden Figures), who seems more interested in focusing on the main characters’ goofy, pre-heist antics. The reasons behind Joe, Willie, and Al’s decision to rob a bank is worthy of proper examination, and if intelligently handled could have resonated with so many people who are experiencing the same hardships. Instead this aspect is overly simplified, used to easily manipulate audience emotion, and then is promptly pushed aside, subsequently concentrating too much on the mechanics and execution of the heist itself.
Actor-turned-director Zach Braff (of Scrubs fame), who helmed the utterly forgettable Garden State (2004) and Wish I Was Here (2014), provides yet another bland, empty effort. Lacking energy, comic timing, and momentum, Braff openly appears to take the safest option at any given opportunity, and allows every joke to be seen from a mile away. Devoid of invention and substance, Braff flails desperately to little effect.
Holding everything together are Caine, Freeman, and Arkin, who effortlessly glide through proceedings, despite the fact none of them are given anything genuinely interesting (or funny) to do. These legendary performers are above the trite, juvenile script on offer, but are all thoroughly professional nonetheless. Seeing weak writing and limp direction surround first-rate actors, reminded me of the 2012 comedy/drama The Stand-Up Guys, another misfire that managed to waste three fine talents, in that case Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and, once again, Alan Arkin. Ann Margret tries hard as Al’s eager love interest, while Matt Dillon and John Ortiz aren’t given much of a chance to leave an impression. Christopher Lloyd’s faculty-challenged role borders on embarrassing, which is such a shame after his recent, stand-out turn in the excellent, under-seen I Am Not A Serial Killer.
Going in Style belittles its source material, turning a contemplative, somber story into something glib and cartoonish, where nearly every ‘old person’ cliché and stereotype is put on display. The best thing about this remake however, is that it will hopefully introduce to a whole new generation a superb film that has been flying under the radar for far too long.