Starring: Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, Ann-Margaret, Joey King, Matt Dillon, Christopher Lloyd, Kenan Thompson, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, John Ortiz, Peter Serafinowicz, Josh Pais, Maria Dizzia.
Director: Zach Braff
Rating: PG-13 (for drug content, language and some suggestive material.)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Date: April 7, 2017
MGM, New Line Cinema, Village Roadshow Pictures, and Warner Bros.
Written by: Theodore Melfi, based on the 1979 film “Going In Style” written by Edward Cannon and directed by Martin Brest.
When movie critics emerge from screenings, the studio’s publicist is often waiting with a smile, pen, notepad, and a question – “What did you think?”
Emerging from our screening of Going In Style, finding an internal balance between the peanut M&M’s and cherry cola I consumed for 90-plus minutes, I uttered the word “Harmless.” A second critic walked up after I stepped aside and she answered the same question with the word “Harmless.” Then, a third critic strolled out of the theater, walked up to the publicist, and when asked what he thought, shared one thought: “Harmless.”
The publicist laughed, and once we realized what our reactions all were, we all laughed together. Independently of one another, we all settled on describing Zach Braff’s newest film with a word that basically means “safe” or “innocuous” or “mild.”
Sounds about right.
A 2017 remake of Martin Brest’s 1979 debut film, Going In Style stars three Oscar winning actors: Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin, as best friends who find their jobs terminated and pensions gutted when the steel mill they work for uses said pension money to offset their relocation to Vietnam.
Previously, it was Joe (Caine) who had a meeting with a bank lender (Josh Pais, more on him in a moment) regarding a potential foreclosure. During that meeting, everyone in the bank become victimized by a bank robbery. Leaving with no injuries, but his problems unresolved and pension plans evaporating for both himself and his friends, Joe grows increasingly worried that he will lose the home he shares with his daughter (Maria Dizzia) and granddaughter (Joey King).
Meanwhile, Al (Arkin) and Willie (Freeman) have been Joe’s best friends and together, roommates for 25 years, living across the street from Joe’s family. Willie’s starting to have some health concerns and Al has found a potential suitor in Annie (Ann-Margaret). For each of the men, life has reached yet another crossroads. And so, it makes sense to Joe that, upon learning that the robbers escaped without being caught, the three septuagenarians pull off a bank heist of their own to solve all their problems.
Directed by Zach Braff (Garden State), Going In Style goes down about as easy as a smooth milkshake at the end of a hot, summer day. In the moment, the movie is a breeze to drink in, with the three legendary actors calmly steering us through a perfectly routine little story.
Written by Oscar nominee Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures), this is a movie that never has any real interest in depth or consequence. The only moments which earn the film’s PG-13 rating occur when Joe and Willie pass around a joint with a potential strategist for the heist and a running gag over Al and Annie’s carnal exploits.
Beyond that, this is surface-level, family-friendly stuff which never really cares enough to explore the struggle of getting old in today’s world with any meaningful complexity. Absent is a real understanding of how millions of elderly citizens in our country are so dependent and reliant on a monthly pension or retirement check. A wink and passing head nod momentarily ponders the idea of loneliness and feeling left behind by youth and family, but in reality, this is just a simple, basic comedy that falls back on moments like the men outsmarting a gruff investigator (Matt Dillon), the best friends mixing it up with an overbearing waitress (Siobhan Fallon Hogan), and a number of other cute and feel-good moments to pad out the running time.
What saves the film is that Caine, Freeman, and Arkin can be engaging with anything they attempt to perform, and so we naturally gravitate to the actors embodying these characters and personas. There’s some conviction displayed along the way and Caine has some nice moments with King‘s 14-year-old precocious, whipsmart granddaughter character.
On the downside though, Going In Style makes us cringe more than once, Christopher Lloyd is here as Milton, a fourth friend of sorts suffering from dementia. Braff decides to have Lloyd go “all in” with Milton and his cognitive struggles are exploited for comedic gain. Quite frankly, nothing about Milton in this movie feels good at all.
Additionally, there is an absolutely brutal, movie-killing performance from Pais. He plays a banker, and the initial person Caine speaks to regarding his financial woes. Pais is so over-the-top and painfully unfunny that I have to think Braff was denied the opportunity to recast and re-shoot those scenes with another talent. Pais’ resume is lengthy and he has crafted a wonderful career thus far. Plus, I’m sure Pais is a nice enough guy. Man oh man though does he grate on the nerves and grind the film to a stop every time he appears on screen.
In totality, the general public will probably be “fine” with this movie, perhaps even call it “cute”, and maybe even describe it as “a good show.” And honestly, I cannot say I completely disagree with that takeaway. This is the cinematic equivalent of eating marshmallows – you’ll get some sweet, perhaps even a little sugar rush, but the experience lacks any real substance whatsoever.
Marshmallows, in moderation, are relatively harmless. And for the most part, so is Going In Style.
SHOULD I SEE IT?
- Designed to be an audience-appealing comedy, Going In Style will probably play just fine to most audiences, largely an older demographic.
- I’ll consider any reason to watch a movie with Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin starring together.
- An easy passing of 96 minutes. No more and no less.
- What in the world is Christopher Lloyd doing in this movie? Like literally, what is he doing exactly? Those with a connection to someone elderly with cognitive disorders, including dementia, may find his performance and character mocking something very near and dear to their hearts.
- Forgettable the moment the end credits begin and the lights come on.
- Squanders the opportunity to actually be meaningful and matter. Instead, it awkwardly cuts between comedy, farce, and drama and never digs below the surface on any topics or concepts it cares to address.