Blu-ray Review: Going In Style (2017)

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Nearly four decades ago (1979, to be exact), Martin Brest—young, inexperienced, and five years way from his Beverly Hills Cop commercial breakthrough—wrote and directed Going In Style. Despite a one-sheet featuring its elderly stars (George Burns, Art Carney, Lee Strasberg) goofing it up in Groucho glasses while leaning on handguns like canes, the film is a quiet meditation on loneliness, terminal boredom, and death. In other words, despite a number of charmingly chuckle-worthy bits, not really a comedy. Memorable yes, just not outright funny.

Director Zach Braff's new 2017 remake retains the title and the character names of the leads. Strasberg's Willie is now played by Morgan Freeman, Carney's Al has become Alan Arkin, and Burns' Joe is Michael Caine. Not a bad start, recruiting those three Oscar winners. But Braff and screenwriter Theodore Melfi (himself a recent Oscar nominee for Hidden Figures) don't seem to have really looked at Brest's film beyond the forced zaniness of that one-sheet. The new film is admittedly funny in places, but that's all it is. The basic premise—three broke senior citizens decide to rob a bank—remains in place. But the original's deep reserves of pain and regret, streamed through an intense longing to reclaim the purposefulness of youth, are nowhere to be found.
rsz_going_in_style_2017_bd.jpg The new Going In Style (now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment) is essentially Grumpy Old Men with guns. Ann-Margaret is even on-hand as a love interest for Arkin's jazz musician Al. It's Joe who hatches the plan after he, Al, and Willie witness a violent armed bank robbery. The men are reeling from the loss of their pensions after the recent buyout of the company to which they dedicated their best years. Plus Joe's adjustable-rate mortgage has tripled. And though he keeps the diagnosis to himself, Willie discovers that his demise may be near due to failing kidneys.

But whereas Brest's earlier film put character first and the crime itself a distant second, Braff has made a comedic heist film. We see extended sequences of the oldster trio training with Jesus (John Ortiz) in order to confidently pull off the robbery. It makes sense to some degree. Bank robbing is apparently a lot more complicated in 2017 than it was in 1979. But the slapstick stuff takes the film into live-action cartoon territory. The side characters are mostly caricatures, including the weaselly bank manager (Josh Pais) who collapses into childish sobbing during the big robbery. Worst of all is a garishly mugging Christopher Lloyd as Milton, a dementia-stricken friend of the main trio who stays at the senior center they frequent. 
going in style feat.jpg Including Willie's progressive kidney disease and the depression it induces, Melfi's screenplay takes a few token stabs at character development. Joe is close with his granddaughter (Joey King) and tries to provide a better example than her deadbeat dad (Peter Serafinowicz). Al makes pocket money teaching sax lessons, a far cry from his peak years jamming with the likes of Stan Getz. None of this really amounts to much. By the time this Style introduces a sympathetic child (Annabelle Chow) who witnessed the robbery, a manipulative move designed to make Joe and company appear less criminal, you just might find yourself rooting for Agent Hamer (Matt Dillon)—head of the robbery investigation—to take these aging menaces to society off the streets.

For special features, Warner's Blu-ray offers a Zach Braff audio commentary and a reel of deleted scenes that runs about 13 minutes.

By all means, fans of Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and/or Alan Arkin should go ahead and give Going In Style a spin. These guys are fun to watch even in dross. But supplement it by tracking down the 1979 original to see a truly sensitive take on the story.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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