Hidden Figures and Garden State made a movie baby
Going In Style has the oddest pedigree. It’s a remake of the 1979 comedy starring Art Carney, Lee Strasberg, and George Burns, in which three old codgers decide to rob a bank for sh*ts and giggles because why not, they’re going to die soon anyway. In 2008, the three leads are Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Alan Arkin, and the merry prankster tone has been replaced by post-economic collapse bitterness as the septuagenarians decide to rob the bank holding their frozen pensions. Also, this new version is written by Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures), and directed by Zach Braff. Yes, THAT Zach Braff. Hidden Figures and Garden State got together and made Grumpy Old Men Rob a Bank.
This is Braff’s first mainstream film effort, and he falls back on his sitcom roots, going broad with the humor and pretty pedestrian in style. He’s doing a workman’s job here, and while the term “workmanlike” gets a bad rap—there’s nothing wrong with reliable competency—it is sort of odd coming from Braff, who side-stepped a post-TV commercial career in favor of indie filmmaking. And there’s something about his very staid and steady direction here that seems like penance for his whole “screw the studios, I’LL DO IT MYSELF” tantrum back when he was making I’m Still Here. It really does feel like he’s working his way back into good graces with this.
That’s definitely not the case for Freeman, Caine, and Arkin, three of the most established and prolific actors of their generation. Style doesn’t offer anything new, but these three are such pros, and have such great cranky coot chemistry together, that they make it quite watchable in spite of itself. Honestly, I was dreading this one, but I laughed a few times and never wanted to pour acid in my eyes, so we’ll call it a win.
There’s a little more plot than is strictly necessary: Besides robbing the bank that is screwing with their pensions, there’s also a secret illness, a late-in-life romance, and a precocious granddaughter (Joey King, whom Braff cast in I’m Still Here to great effect). The romance is totally superfluous but also brings in Anne-Margaret, who is basically just replaying Grumpy Old Men, but she is always so DELIGHTFUL it’s hard to hold the coasting against her. What I will hold against Style is the complete and total waste of Peter Serafinowicz. I wish American movies could figure out what to do with him—Serafinowicz is a brilliantly funny performer, and he keeps getting these thankless walk-on bits. It’s so frustrating.
Going In Style is not particularly inventive comedy—although credit where it’s due, there are no Viagra jokes—and there’s a bit too much going on for a movie that really just needs to be three old cranks deciding to cause trouble, but it is mildly enjoyable. The pleasure derives entirely from watching Freeman, Caine, and Arkin hanging out, and while you can’t help but wish this was a slightly more worthy vehicle for them, they seem to be having fun—or at least are good enough at faking it to pass. Zach Braff isn’t doing anything especially interesting behind the camera, but he isn’t bungling it, either. If the goal is to prove he can work with the studios, he certainly has done that.
Here's Zach with the cast of Going In Style at the New York premiere in March.