Unable to make mortgage repayments, senior citizen Joe (Caine) visits his bank and gets embroiled in a hold-up. When he loses his pension, it gives him the idea to pull off a heist, recruiting two of his old buddies as accomplices.
At one point during Going In Style, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin watch Dog Day Afternoon, another film about a dysfunctional bank heist. While it’s never a good idea to quote a film that is much better than the one the audience is watching, the contrast is instructive. While Dog Day is genuine and off-beat, Going In Style couldn’t be more on-beat, a slick, no-surprises studio comedy that doesn’t make the most of its solid premise and star trio.
Going In Style never quite pulls the caper off.
Based on a 1979 Martin Brest film (starring George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg), it’s easy to see the appeal of a re-do. Three acting legends who can capture a silver audience similar to that for Last Vegas (Freeman’s presence strengthens the connection) in a sprightly sounding tale that plays into our hatred of banks and fears around helping the aged is, on paper, a studio win. The conceit also wooed a surprising behind-the-scenes pedigree. It has been adapted by Hidden Figures director Ted Melfi, writer of the understated St. Vincent, and directed by Zach Braff, who as a filmmaker is best known as a documenter of late Gen X angst (Garden State, Wish I Was Here) rather than the twilight years of the Silent Generation. Sadly, the pair don’t invest it with the indie freshness of their previous work.
The set-up is – suitably enough – slowly drawn and generic. Septuagenarians Joe (Caine), Willie (Freeman) and Al (Arkin) have worked together at a steel manufacturer for three decades. Joe, whose daughter and granddaughter live with him, is struggling to repay his mortgage; Willie never sees his family and is undergoing tests for kidney failure; Al is a miserablist sax player teaching untalented kids while fending off the advances of a grocery shop worker (Ann-Margret). Together they play boules, eat pie (metaphor alert!) and try to guess when they are going to peg it. When they are denied their pensions after their company plans to relocate its business to Vietnam, the financial noose tightens. So they decide to hold up the local bank that has absconded with their loot.
Reservoir Dogs played only with Mr Grey is enticing yet Going In Style never quite pulls the caper off. We get unfunny age-centric gags about not being able to get out of chairs, geriatric sex, mobility scooter chases, old folk taking drugs and codgers in the underworld: ‘Are you 5-0?” asks John Ortiz’s ne’er do well. “We’re nearer 8-0,” retorts Caine. A set-piece where the gang practise crime via shoplifting is broad and over-long. Braff gets a little bit more engaged when it comes to the planning of the heist and the aftermath of the robbery when the trio have to spin their alibi to Fed Matt Dillon actually has some zip. But overall his direction adds little in the way of zest or wit. And Rob Simonsen’s ‘comedy thriller’ score is an early contender for most annoying soundtrack of the year.
Caine, Freeman and Arkin are always watchable but feel disengaged here. With the possible exception of Arkin, channelling his Little Miss Sunshine irascibility, Melfi doesn’t give them anything approaching a character. There is the odd good moment — the guys heckling The Batchelorette rose ceremony is one of the film’s few bits of real-life character — and it’s hard to disagree with its ‘Everyone deserves a piece of the pie’ sentiment. But what Going In Style desperately needs is a twinkle. Sadly, it can’t find one for love nor stolen money.
Despite the all-star trio and the rare joke that lands, Going In Style never hits its stride as a warm-hearted crime caper. It also offers the once-seen-never-forgotten sight of Michael Caine on a mobility scooter in a car park.