A charitable view of the cutesy remake of 1979’s codger caper comedy “Going in Style” is that old age and the way we look at it have changed over the decades.
When three frail, lonely old men — Art Carney, George Burns, Lee Strasberg — decided to rob a bank out of boredom, raging against the acceptance of their own mortality, pushing 80 was a death sentence in and of itself.
Today, 80 is the new, um, 68? There are whole corners of the culture dedicated to the elderly — active senior communities, mobility scooters, age-friendly phones, senior dating websites, Fox News.
So sitcom vet Zac Braff and screenwriter Theodore Melfi had, at the very least, to cook up new motivations for three retirees (Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin) to knock off a bank. It’s just that they utterly defanged the movie, stripped it of pathos and any sense of reality and made it a simple “feel-good comedy” in the process.
There are hints of infirmity among the three former co-workers, Joe (Caine), Willie (Freeman) and Al (Arkin). Willie’s diabetic and needs a kidney. Mostly, it’s “other” old folks — guys in their lodge (Christopher Lloyd) who are doddering, on the verge of drooling incapacity. Mortality never really figures in it.
When a corporate merger eats their pensions and their bank is an enabler in this Wall Street sanctioned theft, these active seniors don’t have to take this sitting down. Joe’s witnessed a bank robbery. Why don’t they knock over that same bank, collect what’s owed to them and give the excess “to charity?”
That last detail scrubs what little edge this might have retained from the original film right off it.
“These banks practically destroyed this country,” Joe fumes.
“I want to live better than I am,” Willie agrees.
Al? He’s the sane one and has to be pretty much tricked into helping out.
There’s cute senior cursing and faintly lewd senior flirting (Ann-Margret, still getting it done). A trial run — attempting to shoplift at their local supermarket — earns them a sarcastic (and funny) dressing down from SNL’s Kenan Thompson. Making your getaway in a store mobility scooter is good for a laugh.
And I liked the philosopher robber who refuses Joe’s wallet in the hold-up that inspires him to pull such a heist himself. The masked gunman tells Joe he’s “a casualty of a corrupt system that no longer serves The People,” and chides a society that doesn’t cherish the elderly. No, that’s not heavy-handed at all.
Mostly, though, Braff and Melfi trot out endless variations of “Maybe you’re having a stroke,” and “Life is short” jokes, trite plot points about a lack of visits from distant family and F-bombs delivered for cheap laughs by three Oscar-winning screen legends.
John Ortiz is their instructor in the rules of bank robbery and Matt Dillon is the FBI agent on their tail, both solid in supporting roles.
But for all its revelations about the changing definition of “aged,” “Going in Style” is never more than watered-down pandering. It has about as much satiric bite as a Polident commercial, a reverse mortgage of a movie promising dividends its enfeebled script never delivers.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for drug content, language and some suggestive material
Cast: Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, Ann-Margret, John Ortiz, Matt Dillon
Credits: Directed by Zac Braff, written by Theodore Melfi, based on the Edward Cannon script to the 1979 film of the same title. A New Line/Warner Brothers release.