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Old School

Morgan Freeman
Morgan Freeman
Warner Brothers
 96 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Zach Braff
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin
Going in Style

Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Alan Arkin are three of the finest actors of their, or any, generation, accumulating four Oscars and dozens of excellent performances among them. They have also proved themselves willing on occasion to appear before the cameras in a number of projects not remotely worthy of their talents, such as Caine’s star turn in Jaws IV: The Revenge, a film whose production schedule precluded him from receiving his first Oscar in person. Put the three of them together in a remake of the minor 70s gem, Going in Style, and the possibilities are endless. But, as was the case when Freeman appeared with another bevy of highly talented senior citizens, Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, and Kevin Kline to be exact, in Last Vegas, this movie often goes for the quick, easy gag and squanders a good bit of its potential.


Going in Style is a heist comedy. In the original version of the film, George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg decided to commit the robbery because they were bored with their largely empty lives, and the film became a bittersweet examination of aging and mortality. There’s nothing bittersweet or subtle about the current movie, directed by Zach Braff, as if he were helming a feature-length episode of his Scrubs TV series with his dream cast. And, to their credit, Freeman, Caine, and Arkin go along for the ride, which includes heavy doses of Three Stooges-level slapstick mixed with treacly sentimentality.


Because Braff and screenwriter Theodore Melfi (who acquitted himself much better in the Oscar-nominated Hidden Figures) can’t have three national treasures pulling off a bank robbery out of sheer boredom, the script provides them with an ample dose of motivation. It seems that blue collar retirees Willie (Freeman), Joe (Caine), and Al (Arkin) find themselves nearly destitute when their employer sends its operations overseas and shuts down its pension fund at the exact same time that the bank is getting ready to foreclose on an adjustable mortgage their unctuous sales rep (Josh Pais) talked Joe into taking. Willie, in the meantime, needs an expensive and unlikely kidney transplant fairly quickly, since his dialysis treatments are proving increasingly less effective. Al has no overriding financial worries, but he does have a new girlfriend (Ann-Margret), and he serves as the grumbling curmudgeony voice of semi-reason who tries (and predictably fails) to put a brake on the proceedings.


Once the three decide to pull the robbery, they have the good sense to consult an expert, in this case Jesus (John Ortiz), the owner of a nearby pet store who dabbles in larceny on the side. With Jesus’ help and Joe’s years of conducting background research by watching countless episodes of Law and Order, the three concoct the sort of intricate plan that movies like Going in Style inevitably have, one that involves establishing a nearly perfect alibi and then pulling off the robbery with quasi-military timing and precision, much like the maneuvers on display in Freeman and Caine’s last teamings, the Now You See Me movies.


Watching three old codgers outsmart bank officials and cops in an intricate heist would probably have made for a highly entertaining thriller. But, apparently, the filmmakers did not trust their material. So, instead of showcasing the larcenous skills of the trio, Braff and Melfi go for old, reliable, and very cheap jokes. We get the three robbers in training, first by trying to get in shape for the job, and second, by pulling off a dry run.


That dry run is the low point of Going in Style. Instead of robbing a bank, Willie, Joe, and Al shoplift a grocery store, presumably so audiences can be treated to the less-than-hilarious spectacle of Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman stuffing canned hams under their shirts. That’s followed by the equally hilarious spectacle of them puttering off on a motorized shopping carts, throwing bags of flour at the pursuing security guard.


Fortunately, Braff regains enough of his footing by the time of the robbery. A lengthy sequence in which the three manage to slip away unnoticed during a local charity carnival is both clever and well-edited. The bank robbery itself manages to become surprisingly serious, when things don’t quite go as planned, leading to a rather suspenseful confrontation with an arrogant FBI agent (Matt Dillon). The conclusion of Going in Style, in which the three bank robbers display a degree of skill and cleverness that belies the rather patronizing attitude that society, as exemplified by the smarmy Dillon, displays towards them, is intended as a crowd pleaser, but it would have been more effective had the film not thrown out one cheap joke after another based on their physical infirmities.


What’s still effective are the performances here. It doesn’t get better than Caine, Freeman, and Arkin when they are at their most charming, and the trio dial the charm meter up to 11 here. It helps that the script gives them adorable co-stars to play off in the persons of Ann-Margret and Willie and Joe’s granddaughters. Best of all is the good-natured bandying and bickering that the three engage in. Watching Going in Style is an exercise in seeing old pros comfortable in working with each other who know all the tricks of the trade.


The chance to see those three in action is the only reason to watch Going in Style, but it’s enough. Zach Braff’s stylistic efforts at slick moviemaking, the result of watching countless similar heist movies featuring younger protagonists, are actually counterproductive, and take away form the sheer enjoyment of seeing the leads carry on. As the original film did so well, this remake touches on some serious themes involving old age, loneliness, and potential poverty. But while the original movie wasn’t afraid to tackle these issues head-on, this remake skirts them in favor of the pleasant way out. Frankly, those three actors prove more than pleasant enough to carry the load. Caine, Freeman, and Arkin have far more than enough style to make Going in Style entertaining, but the movie definitely could and should have gone a bit farther.

In this scene, Michael Caine tries to convince Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin to rob a bank with him.

Read other reviews of Going in Style:


Going in Style (2017) on IMDb