The story told in “Going in Style” — three disgruntled codgers rob a bank — has the makings of a fine movie.
We know this because of the original “Going in Style” starring George Burns, Lee Strasberg and Art Carney. I saw it just once when it opened in 1979, but the film’s seamless blend of comedy and end-of-life seriousness has hung strong in my memory for nearly four decades.
Minutes after I watched the new “Going in Style” its memory already is fading.
Which is a shame, given that it features three Oscar-winning actors — Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin — whose combined thespian might should be enough to power a battleship.
Oh, there are flashes of genuine emotion here, but they are fleeting, buried under cheap laughs, grotesque improbabilities and the jittery pacing of short-attention-span filmmaking.
Joe (Caine), Willie (Freeman) and Albert (Arkin) are Brooklyn neighbors and longtime workers at a steel plant. Retired for a decade, they’re still best buds.
But getting old isn’t for sissies. The bank is taking the house Joe shares with his daughter and granddaughter. Willie is dying of kidney disease. Albert is terminally grumpy.
The final blow comes when their old employer is bought by a European outfit that closes down all American operations and terminates the pension fund upon which our protagonists rely for their survival.
After 50 years of living honest American lives, the three are indignant at this turn of events. They decide to get even by robbing the bank overseeing the dismantling of the pension fund. That it’s the same institution foreclosing on Joe’s house only makes revenge that much sweeter.
How they inventively pull this off is, of course, the stuff of fantasy. The heist details put forth in Theodore Melfi’s screenplay have holes big enough to drive a semi through. Still, it’s entertaining enough.
Less effective are some ill-begotten stabs at septuagenarian humor (Christopher Lloyd is stuck with trying to make dementia uproariously funny), slapstick silliness (the three hone their larcenous skills by attempting to shoplift dinner at a supermarket) and a reluctance on the part of the filmmakers to present any idea of substance without immediately diluting it with a bit of comic overkill.
Among the supporting players are Ann-Margret as a supermarket worker who has the hots for the reluctant Albert, Matt Dillon as an FBI agent on the case and John Ortiz as a good-natured criminal who improbably coaches the three old miscreants in bank-robbing protocols (why take the risk when they could easily implicate him in the crime?).
“Going in Style” was directed by former “Scrubs” actor Zach Braff, who earned his indie-feature bona fides with 2004’s “Garden State.” But “Style” is nothing if not a product of a Hollywood studio: light, glib and easy to forget.
Read more of freelancer Robert W. Butler’s reviews at butlerscinemascene.com.
‘Going in Style’
Rated PG-13. Time: 1:36.