Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin are far-from-juvenile delinquents in ‘Going in Style’
Remakes are supposed to change things up a little. But the new “Going in Style” changes the wrong things.
The fondly remembered, 1979 original had Art Carney, George Burns and Lee Strasberg as three codgers turned artful dodgers, determined to add a little life to their golden years by robbing a bank. Their motives were mostly selfish, their endings not terribly happy.
This remake has Michael Caine, Alan Arkin and Morgan Freeman taking over, which is no problem. But also taking over is the kind of big studio caution that both coddles the characters and the audience. It’s more toothless than its heroes.
Now, the old men are given a multiple of good reasons to turn to crime, including a heartless bank and a depleted pension fund (it’s “Hell or High Water” meets “Tower Heist”). And they, and us, are let off easy, with happier results and softer jokes.
You can probably lay that blame at the laptop of Theodore Melfi, who also wrote “St. Vincent” and co-wrote “Hidden Figures”; good at attracting stars to his projects, he’s bad at avoiding the sort of obvious stand-up-and-cheer moments that often ring false.
He has his stars here – as always, it’s merely a pleasure to hear Caine speak, and Arkin is still polishing his gold-plated kvetch routine. (An added bonus: A small part for Ann-Margret.)
But after a solid beginning, the movie begins to droop, filled with characters – sassy waitress, sour cop, distant dad – who feel more like placeholders than people. (And one – an elderly man with dementia, played by Christopher Lloyd – is merely in unfunny bad taste.)
The film is an unusual one for Zach Braff, whose first two pictures – the great “Garden State,” and less certain “Wish I Was Here” – were looser, clearly more personal projects, unwilling to shoehorn in all the requisite Hollywood “moments” a writer like Melfi naturally resorts to.
But Braff didn’t write this film, and apart from some on-location grittiness (it was mostly filmed in unlovely corners of Brooklyn and Queens), and a jazzy sequence showing the heist’s planning, it remains a simple, slick job for hire, studded with a lot of unnecessary helicopter shots (perhaps Braff’s way of staying awake).
The new “Going in Style” isn’t a horrible film. It’s brief, at least, and filled with fondly familiar faces; there are a few smiles, and it’s all over before you know it. “Kinda like life,” I can almost hear Burns muttering from behind his cigar. But that was a better movie, for a better time.
Ratings note: The film contains drug use, strong language, sexual situations and violence.