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Great cast makes 'Going in Style' a watchable, if flawed caper

Posted April 7

“GOING IN STYLE — 2½ stars — Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin, Joey King, Ann-Margret; PG-13 (drug content, language and some suggestive material); in general release

A great cast can spackle over a lot of holes, and “Going in Style” has a great cast. Sadly, director Zach Braff’s film has a few too many issues for his trio of Hollywood heavyweights to fix.

“Going in Style” is a remake of a 1979 caper starring George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg. This time around, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin play three pensioners looking for a big payout.

Joe (Caine), Willie (Freeman) and Albert (Arkin) are ex-steel workers, living in Brooklyn and trying to enjoy their twilight years. Then their pensions get canceled after their former employer moves overseas.

Soon, Joe is on the verge of losing his house, which is doubly problematic since he’s hosting his daughter (Maria Dizzia) and granddaughter (Joey King). Willie needs a kidney, and Albert has been moonlighting as a jazz musician for years, so he’s got musician’s angst. (He also has Ann-Margret's character chasing him at the local grocer, which isn’t the worst fate in the world.)

When Joe has a close encounter during a bank robbery — the same bank that’s liquidating their pension fund — he gets a revelation of righteous indignation. With a little convincing, he recruits his longtime friends to help him steal enough money to replace what their pensions would have paid.

There’s an element of moral justification to the geriatric crew’s position, and Braff tries to mine enough contemporary economic angst to get his audience on board, but it isn’t quite enough to put his crew in “Ocean’s Eleven” territory. We can cheer for Brad Pitt and George Clooney because they are myths in great suits, fighting an evil enemy fraught with corruption. But Caine and his buddies are genuinely good people, corruptible people. In a way, you don’t want to see them succeed.

Sadly, that isn’t the biggest issue with “Going in Style.” It feels like it takes about half the film to get the wanna-be robbers on board with the caper, then Braff seems to hit fast-forward through the actual preparations and execution of their mission.

With some better writing, this might have worked but, in spite of their best efforts, Caine and company struggle to elevate their mediocre material, and an awkward warm-up robbery at a local food mart pushes the boundaries of believability too far into slapstick territory.

To a point, the weaknesses won’t matter. Even the simple sight of Arkin struggling to get through a saxophone lesson with a hapless young student can be remarkably entertaining. It’s also fun to see Christopher Lloyd in a supporting role, even if his material pales in comparison to the work that made him such a beloved figure in the first place.

In too many ways, “Going in Style” feels more like a tribute to the past work of some great actors, and a film that will probably leave you inclined to look up some of their titles. The film itself is more of a nostalgic reunion special with a handful of sweet moments.

At 11 p.m. on cable, or even at the dollar theater, a reunion special can be perfectly good. But like the bank job their onscreen characters are struggling to pull off, “Going in Style” feels like a film that is just beyond salvaging.

“Going in Style” is rated PG-13 for drug content, language and some suggestive material; running time: 96 minutes.

Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who also teaches English composition for Weber State University. You can also find him on <a href='https://www.youtube.com/moviereviewsbyjosh' target='_blank'>YouTube</a>.

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