Slumming Through “Going in Style,” Three Masters Deliver Occasional Laughs

Going in Style (Zach Braff, 2017) 2 out of 4 stars.

Film poster: “Going in Style”

How the mighty have fallen. Let’s start with actor-turned-director Zach Braff (J.D. on ABC’s long-running Scrubs), whose marvelous 2004 filmmaking debut, Garden State, held such creative promise. Ten years later, his sophomore effort, Wish I Was Here, did far less well. In between, and afterwards, he helmed various made-for-TV efforts, including episodes of Scrubs, but now he’s back behind the camera with theatrical film #3, Going in Style, a remake of the 1979 film of the same name. That original movie starred George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg as three aging friends who decide to rob a bank to relieve the tedium (and poverty) of their autumn years. Braff’s film stars Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine), Michael Caine (Harry Brown) and Morgan Freeman (Lucy), all exceptional actors who have put in their dues, and so really should be allowed to do whatever they want now. Still, they could do better. Though not without genuine entertainment value, Going in Style should really just be called “Slumming It.”

Nevertheless, there are real chuckles amid the pablum. These guys are just too good not to deliver some kind of goods. Add Ann-Margret (Lucky) into the mix, along with a talented cast of supporting players that includes Joey King (Greta Grimly on Season 1 of FX’s Fargo), John Ortiz (The Drop), Matt Dillon (The Art of the Steal), Saturday Night Live‘s Kenan Thompson and many others, and it is impossible not to score any points, even with the dumbest of premises. It starts out well enough, with our three buddies given a real reason to commit their crime: their impending penury is due to collusion between their bank and former employer, who scheme to sell off their much-needed pension fund. It’s hard not to root for them to succeed when the ones they intend to rob are so villainous. As the film progresses, however, the inanity of the proceedings begins to take over the comedy, and no amount of performance magic can rescue the conclusion, enjoyably madcap as it may be, from utter foolishness.

Willie (Morgan Freeman), Joe (Michael Caine) and Albert (Alan Arkin) learn to shoot in “Going in Style”

Let us, despite all that, sing the praises of these actors who remain spry even in their 80s (Freeman is almost there). Arkin, especially, seems never to age. Thanks to their comfortable rapport and ease in front of the camera, they keep Going in Style from being a total loss. Let’s label it a guilty pleasure, watch it, laugh, and then think about it no more. I am, nonetheless, concerned about Braff. This is not his material – he’s working off a script by Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures) – but is this all the work he can get? That fact, alone, freezes the laughter in my throat, making the film a tragicomedy of epic proportions. Come back, Zach! You’re half the age of your leads. There’s still time. We hope …

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About chrisreedfilm

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. He is the lead film critic at hammertonail.com, an online magazine devoted to independent cinema; a regular film critic at filmfestivaltoday.com; the host of Dragon Digital Media’s award-winning "Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed"; a regular film commentator for the "Roughly Speaking” podcast with Dan Rodricks at "The Baltimore Sun"; an occasional writer for the magazine bmoreart.com; and the author of "Film Editing: Theory and Practice."
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