Wednesday, April 12, 2017

In Theaters: GOING IN STYLE (2017)

(US - 2017)

Directed by Zach Braff. Written by Theodore Melfi. Cast: Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin, Christopher Lloyd, Matt Dillon, Ann-Margret, John Ortiz, Peter Serafinowicz, Joey King, Kenan Thompson, Josh Pais, Maria Dizzia, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Melanie Nichols-King, Ashley Aufderheide. (PG-13, 96 mins)

1979's GOING IN STYLE was sold as a wacky comedy about a trio of elderly retirees robbing a bank in Groucho Marx disguises. But the stick-up was only a small part of the story, which primarily focused on the three aging widowers (George Burns as Joe, Art Carney as Al, and Lee Strasberg as Willie) looking for something to alleviate the boredom, the loneliness, and the depression of getting old and spending their days sitting in the park feeding the pigeons. The breakthrough film for 28-year-old writer/director Martin Brest (who would go on to make BEVERLY HILLS COP, MIDNIGHT RUN, SCENT OF A WOMAN, and the career-ending GIGLI), GOING IN STYLE was a comedy but a dark and character-driven one, with poignant and heartfelt observations about growing old, living with regrets, and knowing you don't have a lot of time left. It wasn't a feel-good movie. Hell, Al and Willie both die, and Joe not only gets nabbed, but he's in prison at the end. Nearly 40 years later, GOING IN STYLE gets the remake treatment, appropriately cast with three living legends--Michael Caine as Joe, Alan Arkin as Al, and Morgan Freeman as Willie--but the results aren't the same. GOING IN STYLE '17 is perfectly acceptable in a dumb and unchallenging kind of way. It's less a story than it is a focus group-approved checklist of cliches, tropes, and contrivances. This new take is a GOING IN STYLE that's a mash-up of GRUMPY OLD MEN, THE BUCKET LIST, and HORRIBLE BOSSES. It's all about the bank robbery, now an intricately-planned heist with alibis, decoys, a getaway vehicle, and an ethnic accomplice in Jesus (John Ortiz), a Latino version of Jamie Foxx's Motherfucker Jones from HORRIBLE BOSSES, There's no depth to GOING IN STYLE '17. The humor is limited primarily to "It's funny because they're old!" jokes like a motorized scooter chase, Joe and Willie smoking weed and getting the munchies, and Al rediscovering the long-dormant sexual dynamo within after hooking up with still-foxy grocery clerk Annie (Ann-Margret).

Written by Theodore Melfi, whose script existed several years before he scored big by writing and directing HIDDEN FIGURES, and directed by, of all people, SCRUBS star, GARDEN STATE auteur, and emo cautionary tale Zach Braff, GOING IN STYLE '17 goes out of its way to give the trio substantial reasons to rob the bank. Retired from a Brooklyn steel mill that's about to screw over their workforce and move its operations to Vietnam, Joe, Al, and Willie find their pensions frozen with no money coming in. This causes Joe's house to go into foreclosure when his mortgage triples after being sold on a sketchy refinancing offer by the asshole loan manager (Josh Pais) at the bank. Joe is at the bank trying to deal with this issue when it's robbed by a trio of highly-coordinated gunmen. When Joe finds out the same bank that's foreclosing on him also holds the steel mill's liquidated pension accounts, the seed is planted. He convinces his best buddies to go along with him on a robbery by promising to only take the money they'd be getting in their pensions for the next seven or so years (estimating how long they'll likely be alive) and if any more is accrued, they'll give it to charity. After a test run of their crime skills fails miserably when they're busted shoplifting at the neighborhood market (this entire sequence is embarrassingly awful), they decide they need help from a pro, and end up meeting Jesus through Joe's weed-dealing ex-son-in-law Murphy (Peter Serafinowicz). Jesus helps them map out the heist, helps them set up alibis, and teaches them how to hotwire a car, at which the old guys are immediately experts. Sporting Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. Rat Pack masks, they barely pull off the robbery--a bank employee hits the silent alarm, but according to the movie's own timeline, it takes roughly 30 minutes for the police to arrive--but are pursued by dogged FBI agent Hamer (Matt Dillon), who knows they're his guys but can't prove it.

GOING IN STYLE '17 is so concerned with making the audience love its altruistic, irascible old geezers that it constantly stacks the deck against them for maximum sympathy: Joe's house in foreclosure, his daughter (Maria Dizzia) and granddaughter (Joey King) live with him after they get away from loser Murphy, Willie's in late-stage renal failure and hasn't told anyone that he needs a kidney transplant ASAP or he'll die, and he desperately wants to be closer to his own daughter and granddaughter who live across the country. Al has no pressing issues other than his innate grouchiness, which is vintage late-career Arkin, but his work here is awfully similar to 2012's already-forgotten STAND-UP GUYS, where he, Al Pacino, and Christopher Walken played aging mobsters pulling off One Last Job. GOING IN STYLE '17 is beneath its stars, but Freeman, Caine, and Arkin are so good at doing whatever they do whenever they're onscreen in anything that there's some moderate level of enjoyment to be had, even if it's watching the three of them sitting around watching TV and arguing about who THE BACHELORETTE's choice should be. But the whole thing is too formulaic and too afraid to take chances, like embracing the inherent sense of melancholy that Burns, Carney, and Strasberg were allowed to do back in 1979.

Burns, Strasberg, and Carney in
the original 1979 version.
GOING IN STYLE '17 doesn't want to address any of these serious concerns in an intelligent, mature, and dignified way. It lacks the courage to allow any of its heroes to die (is there any chance Willie doesn't find a donor?) and goes for easy laughs like an old woman screaming "Who the fuck took my scooter?" when Joe commandeers it fleeing the grocery store, because geriatrics dropping vulgarities is a can't-miss, as decreed in the Burgess Meredith Amendment of 1993. It wants to show Freeman and Caine stuffing ham and pork loins down their pants and then getting all hazy and glassy-eyed after blazing up with Jesus' weed, or Arkin and Ann-Margret panting in a post-coital sweat. It's mostly good-natured and not done in a mean-spirited or mocking way (though there's several laughs at the expense of a senile and perpetually befuddled lodge brother played by Christopher Lloyd in total Reverend Jim mode), but at the same time, these are cheap and lazy jokes that allow the film to coast on the charm and the accomplishments of its three Oscar-winning stars. They're fun to watch, but wouldn't you almost rather watch 96 minutes of Freeman, Caine, and Arkin just sitting around bullshitting and telling stories? GOING IN STYLE '79 was a modest hit at the box office but is still fondly remembered by those who saw it 38 years ago. Will anyone remember GOING IN STYLE '17 38 days from now?

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