The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Going in Style

Going in Style is a textbook example of how not to make a heist movie. It's stunning how the film gets even the most basic steps wrong. This is a remake of a 1979 comedy that starred George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg. Not many people seem to remember it, although the movie was a staple on HBO in the early days of premium cable. The basic plot is ripe for a modern re-telling, yet this new version – directed by Zach Braff and written by Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures) – can't even see the obvious ways to do that.

Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin play, respectively, Joe, Willie, and Albert, three longtime friends who work together in a factory. When they discover that a local bank has essentially conspired to deny them of their pensions, the guys decide to rob it. They have different reasons for wanting to do this. Joe is trying to avoid losing his house. Willie, who is facing a serious health issue, wants enough money to visit his far-away granddaughter. Albert's motives are somewhat less clear. He's just generally cranky, despite starting up a relationship with a grocery store employee (Ann-Margret, looking at least two decades younger than her actual age).

For a heist movie to work, there are two essential ingredients. The first is a strong motivation for the characters to conduct the heist. The audience has to have enough rooting interest in the people populating the story to overlook the fact that they are doing something illegal. Going in Style provides only the most basic, generic motivations possible. We all know about the Savings & Loan scandals that robbed people of their life savings. (See The Big Short for more on that.) That exact sort of institutional irresponsibility could have been used in a poignant manner. Instead, the film takes the lazy way out, exploring malfeasance of this nature in only the most perfunctory way. The stakes for these gentlemen simply don't feel that high.

The other key ingredient is a thorough understanding of how the heist will be carried out, i.e. the planning stages. Going in Style doesn't make clear how the robbery is pulled off until after it has happened. That robs the story of crucial momentum. All we get in advance is a slick music montage showing some jokey preparations. (Albert practices firing a gun and falls over backwards!) Without a full knowledge of the mechanics, there's no excitement in watching it unfold. Braff tries to inject some energy by over-relying on split-screen images and placing a variety of graphics on the screen while things take place. Those are not what the movie needs, however. It needs the kind of clockwork execution that is a hallmark of any good heist picture.

Caine, Freeman, and Arkin are all solid, as they always are. Regrettably, they're saddled with subpar material. Going in Style falls back on some of the creakiest, lamest joke types imaginable. A little old lady drops the F-bomb. The guys complain about aging and growing creaky. They wear Rat Pack masks during the stick-up. They try marijuana at one point. A terrified bank employee wets his pants. Such little comic inspiration is on display here that one has to wonder what motivated these three veteran actors to sign up for the project. (Caine once admitted he made Jaws: The Revenge to fund a new house, so maybe a similar principle is at work this time, too.) Some of the appeal of the original came from the fact that it was a lark to see someone like George Burns engaging in criminal activity. These actors have all played criminals at some point, so that kind of novelty value is missing.

Going in Style doesn't work as a comedy or as a heist adventure. Not even the estimable talents of its stars can elevate the half-baked script. “Old guys robbing a bank” is a premise that could go either way. In this case, the way it chooses is the one that leads to tedium over fun.

( 1/2 out of four)

Going in Style is rated PG-13 for drug content, language and some suggestive material. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.

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