“Going in Style” sets up as an old guy caper drama, a genre that in the past has come with a checklist.
Viagra jokes. Incontinence humor. A fistfight with younger guys in a bar. An affair with a much younger woman. A sullen grandson who must come to respect the old timers.
Director Zach Braff runs in the opposite direction of these stereotypes and all other things hackneyed, crafting an enjoyable time at the movies. “Going in Style” isn’t perfect, but it does the most important thing right: It adds dignity to its older characters, instead of stripping it away in the name of humor.
Take Willie, a former steel worker played by Morgan Freeman. He dresses with an old school stylishness, exudes satisfaction from getting a bad cup of coffee at a diner with his buddies (Michael Caine and Alan Arkin), and glows with life as he video chats with his daughter and granddaughter from his Queens apartment. Watching the first third of “Going in Style” makes a pretty decent case for growing old.
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But there’s conflict ahead for our heroes. The steel company gets bought by foreign concerns, and their pension disappears. The bank heist that ensues becomes a geriatric and mostly consequence-free “Hell or High Water” – more of a catharsis than a crime, to right a wrong created by a corrupt system.
This is a change from the original “Going in Style,” a 1979 Martin Brest film starring George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg, whose characters robbed a bank to feel young again.
Like Brest, who was in his 30s when he directed the earlier “Style,” Braff and screenwriter Theodore Melfi are relatively young men. There’s a reverence that comes across for the lead actors in their late 70s and early 80s (“Scrubs” actor Braff may realize he could be playing one of these roles in 40 years). And Caine, Arkin and Freeman respond by giving their all.
Arkin in particular embraces his role, with the same vibrant crankiness that won him an Academy Award for “Little Miss Sunshine.” A scene where he suffers through a saxophone lesson, then talks a boy into giving up the instrument, is one of his best.
Although the pacing is strong, there are structure problems with the new “Going in Style.” The plot holes are often distracting. Running at a lean 96 minutes, there appear to be a couple of key scenes missing. The heist itself is an anticlimax, heightened by there being no bad guys in the bank, just more victims. Really, they should be robbing the bank executives somewhere in Upstate New York.
The only truly uproarious sequence is a shoplifting caper that doesn’t make much sense, probalby crafted for the visual of Caine and Freeman in a low-speed street chase on an old folks grocery shopping scooter. But even that over-the-top contrivance ends pleasantly, with a humorous detente between our heroes and a flustered yet understanding store manager (Kenan Thompson, making the most of his three minutes of screen time.)
And all the little things more than make up for any larger story problems. Caine’s kind grandpa Joe joking about the gentrification of Queens with his bright 14-year-old granddaughter (Joey King) is a delight. Braff could have made an entire movie showing Caine, Arkin and Freeman riffing about the rose ceremony while watching “The Bachelor.”
I didn’t double over with laughter watching “Going in Style,” or laugh out loud that much at all. But when getting up to leave, I realized my face physically hurt from grinning throughout the movie.
Like its lead characters, “Going in Style” just grooves along nicely, until the credits roll and you realize it was time well spent.
Going in Style
Comedy. Starring Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin and Ann-Margret.
Directed by: Zach Braff
Running time: 96 minutes