I’ll admit I’ve got a bit of an affection for the classic “senior citizen acting young again goofy comedy” genre. We usually get one or two every year, and they’re often fun, good-spirited, and make audiences laugh in all the right places. Unfortunately, this year’s entry is less than substantial. Despite being called Going in Style, this loose remake of the 1979 comedy that starred George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg lacks the cool swagger necessary to make the material sing like it should.
It doesn’t help that the screenplay can’t pinpoint the location of the material’s hidden charms, and Zack Braff’s awkward direction completely misdirects any potential movie magic from spawning out of the all-star cast. It does have some redeeming qualities, especially with a remarkable performance by Alan Arkin, but these aren’t enough to recommend a trip to the theater.
Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin play three retired lifelong friends and coworkers down on their luck. Caine’s home is in default, Freeman’s kidneys are failing, and Arkin is just really pissed off (as we’d expect). Too make matters worse, all three men lose their retirement pensions. Dissatisfied with the seemingly bleak future, the three decide they need to go ‘in style’ by taking the only logical course of action: they decide to rob a bank and use the stolen money to live out the remainder of their lives.
The way the film presents the events before, during, and after the robbery doesn’t really work. It’s told in a weird nonlinear fashion that focuses more on how the trio accomplishes the robbery, rather than focusing on how each actually behaves during the actual heist. It’s hard for the comedy to develop when so little of the crime itself seems to grow out of the characters’ personalities.
Plus, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are miscast. Movie legends they no doubt are, but neither are a great fit for this material. We know Caine and Freeman as figures capable of still robbing banks, both are entirely too comfortable, both physically and psychologically, robbing the bank to engender much laughter from such a bizarre situation. When George Burns and Art Carney rob a bank, we laugh because we doubt either man could accomplish such a thing. Here, I’ve no doubt Caine and Freeman can do it, and while neither give bad performances (I’m not sure they’re capable of that), but given the level of absurdity needed to make the comedic connection they’re just a bad fit.
However, Alan Arkin is perfect, and the main reason to see this movie is to admire how fantastic of an actor he really is. His whole performance exceeds his dialogue substantially. The way he moves, the way he carries himself, the way he delivers his lines are those of a practiced master. No disrespect, but he plays an old man better than most movie stars can. So often we see senior citizens either completely in tune with the plot or utterly clueless about what’s going on. Arkin remains somewhere in the middle. He feels like a cantankerous old man dropped in fictional movie, rather than a disciplined movie star simply reading lines to further the plot.
But Arkin’s considerable gifts aside, Going in Style just isn’t worth seeing, at least not at full price. It’s a comedy that isn’t rooted in its characters and the harsh realities of growing old, and what some men will do to survive. It’s a genre comedy that relies a gimmick that doesn’t quite work, despite the obvious charms of its talented cast. It’s not entirely unwatchable, and if nothing else presents an enjoyable study in how great of an actor Alan Arkin is. But the movie never seems to know what to invest in, offering up a series of awkwardly constructed scenes stitched together for effect. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you enjoy it more than I did, and I only wish I could agree.