RELEASE DATE: April 7, 2017
DIRECTOR: Zach Braff
RUNTIME: 96 minutes
MPAA RATING: PG-13
It’s hard to know what to say about Going in Style because it’s a movie that wishes to bother you as little as possible. Want a couple of mildly wacky heists? Medium-rare banter between three great actors and a fairly committed supporting cast? Obstacles but not too many obstacles? Zach Braff has got your back.
Alongside screenwriter Ted Melfi, Braff has adapted the 1979 Martin Brest film of the same name, copying over the conceit, setting and basic plot, but has worked to round off the edges and make it a much less demanding watch. The upshot is that this is a harmless, light experience. The downside is that it’s forgettable and trite.
The Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg – one of the most rapidly gentrifying sections of New York City’s most rapidly gentrifying borough – is the longtime home of Joe (Michael Caine), an elderly retiree. Across the street from his house are two longtime friends, Albert (Alan Arkin) and Willie (Morgan Freeman).
Joe has encountered a bit of trouble: He lives in an area with such consistently elevating property values that his mortgage has become too expensive. This matter comes to affect him, Albert and Willie even more when the steel company for which they all used to work unexpectedly shuts down after being bought out from a foreign conglomerate. As a result, their pensions have been all but cancelled.
Joe thinks up a bizarre solution. He recently witnessed a bank robbery and was struck by how cool, calm and collected the perpetrators were. They got in, took the money, got out and didn’t get caught. He wonders if he and his pals could pull off a similar heist, lifting enough cash so that both they and their loved ones could live comfortably for a while.
Of course, while the conceit of staging such a heist is daunting enough, the idea of three men well into their sunset years performing such a demanding task adds even more complications. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and it might just be crazy enough to work.
The most telling indicator of Going in Style’s ephemeral nature is how much it plays off its lead actors’ public personas. I had to resort to IMDb to remember what the main characters’ names are. This is an hour and a half of Arkin, Caine and Freeman doing what they’ve been known for doing, with the personality traits you must associate with them. There’s a certain comfort to that, but it also makes the film feel like a low-gear vehicle for three icons who didn’t need a vehicle.
Consequently, it’s hard to find anything here that couldn’t have been just as adequately accomplished by performers of a lesser caliber. When you get these three together, worthwhile performances are guaranteed. The flipside is that if the script is subpar, the sense of a missed opportunity is extraordinarily palpable. This is the kind of movie where the first visual gag involves Caine having a difficult time getting up out of a chair. It’s fine. That’s all.
Assume that the point of a movie review is to determine what a film was aiming for and evaluate how close it got to achieving that. The immediate determination to be made is that Going in Style lands in a vast middle ground. It manages to grab a few laughs here and there, as well as impressing with a decently plotted third act, where everything pays off in a series of smartly laid-out scenes. That’s nice, but it doesn’t do anything for the hour of mediocre material laid out before it.
We have good actors inhabiting personas with which they are obviously familiar. There is so much that could have been done with this dynamic – more elaborate jokes, better development of the characters or just a tighter plot structure in general – that could have made for a more entertaining and fresher movie. As is, there’s nothing inherently bad here, yet there’s also very little that’s inherently great.