Going in Style
Movies about oldsters turning to crime, in particular robbing banks, are hardly a novel event. Between “Tough Guys,” “The Crew,” “The Grey Fox” and “Family Business,” Geriatric Robbers is practically a genre unto itself. Heck, even Sinatra and the Pack were getting a mite long in the tooth when they made “Ocean’s 11.”
Indeed, “Going in Style” is a loose remake of 1979 film starring George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg that no one really remembers.
The new version features Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin. All are charming playing up their familiar personas: Freeman has a twinkly charisma and tart wisdom; Caine is peevish but warmhearted; Arkin is cantankerous and grouchy.
The plot the movie puts them through is quite tired and predictable, though. All play retirees of a steel company that’s moving to Vietnam and dissolving their pensions, so they decide to get payback by robbing their own bank, which is complicit in both the pensions and trying to foreclose on one guy’s house.
(I love that the screenplay, by Theodore Melfi, doesn’t even bother trying to explain why a Brit has been living and working in New York City for at least 30 years but hasn’t lost his Cockney accent.)
Caine is Joe, Arkin is Albert and Freeman is Willie. They’re working-class guys who live across the street from each other, meet at the same coffee shop most days and are all unmarried — whether bachelors or widowers, we know not. Their pension checks have suddenly stopped showing up and Joe has fallen behind in his mortgage payments. When he goes to the bank, the smarmy banker (Josh Pais) blows him off. But then some bank robbers knock the place over and, as they say, a seed is planted.
Willie is in the latter stages of kidney failure, and as an old guy with crappy insurance he’s near the bottom of the transplant list. Arkin is Willie’s longtime roommate, the kind who spends a lot of time complaining and sleeping.
Roughly the first half of the movie is the planning of the heist, with a little help from a local criminal played by John Ortiz. The second half is the actual robbery and aftermath, with Matt Dillon as the full-of-himself FBI agent investigating the case. Even dogs don’t like him!
In between is a little bit of character and family stuff. Joe lives with his daughter (Maria Dizzia) and granddaughter (an irrepressible Joey King), and during the course of the heist preparation he tries to get his estranged ex-son-in-law (Peter Serafinowicz) to re-enter their lives. Willie wants to be well enough and wealthy enough to travel to see his people more than once a year. Albert finds himself pursued by Annie (Ann-Margret, still a dish at nearly 76), a grocer who shares his appreciation for cooking and jazz.
Director Zach Braff (“Garden State”) milks the obvious laughs for all they’re worth, such as elderly sex. Albert seems stunned to find himself in a relationship with a hot old mama. “She likes me for who I am. I don’t even like me for who I am!”
And, of course, there are plenty of old jokes. “Are you guys 5-0?” asks a suspicious low-life. “We’re closer to 8-0,” Joe deadpans.
Christopher Lloyd — great name, that — shows up as Milton, the hilariously senile guy at the local seniors club. Among his foibles is using a bullhorn for most of his conversations. For him, life’s a non-stop bingo game and there are always balls to be called.
Siobhan Fallon Hogan is the sassy waitress at their diner, whom we just know is destined for the world’s fattest tip. Kenan Thompson plays the security chief at the Value King grocery store where the boys first practice their criminal ways; he feels professionally insulted as he reviews video of the trio stuffing hams down their pants and whatnot.
“Going in Style” reminds me of an old test Gene Siskel used to give movies: instead of the film, would you rather just watch that same cast of actors sitting around, eating lunch and chatting with each other? I’m not sure this movie would pass.