Rated PG-13 for drug content, language and some suggestive material
Screenplay by Theodore Melfi, based on the 1979 story by Edward Cannon
Directed by Zach Braff
Stars: Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin, Ann-Margret, Joey King, Christopher Lloyd, Matt Dillon, John Ortiz and more
Grade: Two and a half stars
Hollywood has tried the “let’s watch these famous old men perform hijinks” before. This time, however, they remembered to make it entertaining.
Though it won’t change your life, “Going In Style” is a surprisingly pleasant romp with three of Hollywood’s best known old men. Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin have an easy camaraderie that only occasionally dips into slapstick, and the plot offers enough genuine emotion along with the humor to keep the whole thing satisfying. Add the fact that the movie is surprisingly cathartic given our current economic and political climate, and you have a fun afternoon with three of your favorite fictional old men.
The plot follows three friends who have all retired from the same steel mill and are wrestling with financial issues – Michael Caine’s character had his mortgage triple on him, Morgan Freeman needs a kidney but has terrible insurance, and Alan Arkin is still giving music lessons. When the steel mill gets bought by a larger company and dissolves everyone’s pensions, the three friends decide their only option is to rob a bank and get back the retirement money that was stolen from them.
Though structured like a heist movie, there’s actually less slapstick than you might expect from the “old guys having an adventure” movie genre. The movie gets serious at moments, and doesn’t hesitate to call out large banks and corporations who don’t care about the people whose lives they destroy. It’s also full of senior-citizen style humor, as if someone’s grandfather had written all the jokes. It turns out that the not-so-senior-citizen behind them is Theodore Melfi, the same guy who wrote the smash hit “Hidden Figures,” and “Going In Style” has the same low-key likeability.
It also has something of a surprise for a director. Though this is actor Zach Braff’s third movie, it’s the first that doesn’t actually feel like a “Zach Braff” movie (and I mean that as a compliment). For once, he hasn’t put himself in front of the camera as well, letting his ego disappear in order to let Freeman, Caine and Arkin shine. He still needs to develop a slightly firmer hand – sometimes, the movie’s indulgence tipped over the edge – but he’s so much better at narrative self control than he was.
The main draw, however, is the leads. Freeman, Caine and Arkin are basically themselves, but if you’re at all fond of them that’s a good thing. The three men work well together, one never upstaging the others, and their banter is excellent enough that one sequence of the three of them on the phone is far more appealing than it has any right to be.
Peter Serafinowicz starts out ridiculous, then shows unexpected depth as the movie progresses. Christopher Lloyd is allowed to wander around and basically be as weird as possible, and if you’re fond of him at all every moment is supremely entertaining. Ann-Margaret also makes an appearance, looking surprisingly impressive for a woman her age. John Ortiz is excellent in an unexpected role.
Together, the results are as deeply satisfying as well-made mashed potatoes and gravy. There’s nothing new here, but it all goes down smoothly.