PLOT When three senior citizens lose their pensions, they decide to rob a bank.
CAST Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin
RATED PG-13 (language, suggested sexuality)
BOTTOM LINE A sprightlier version of the poignant 1979 original.
Three elderly New Yorkers rise up against the system by robbing their local bank in “Going in Style,” a cute-and-cuddly comedy directed by Zach Braff (“Garden State”). This remake of Martin Brest’s overlooked gem from 1979 replaces three iconic stars — George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg — with modern-day actors of at least equivalent stature: Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin. Thanks to them, “Going in Style” works well enough as a breezy, pleasant heist flick. Unless you’ve seen the original film, you’d never know this story once addressed the serious side of mortality, infirmity and financial struggle.
Michael Caine takes the Burns role as Joe, the alpha senior in a close-knit trio that includes easygoing Willie (Morgan Freeman) and likable sourpuss Al (Arkin). As former employees of Wechsler Steel, they’re outraged when the company begins moving operations overseas and uses that as an excuse to cancel everyone’s pensions. Meanwhile, Williamsburg Savings Bank has raised Joe’s mortgage payment and will soon foreclose on his home. It all adds up to a very topical, if rather muddled, explanation for why Joe and his buddies decide to become armed criminals. (The script is by Theodore Melfi, of “Hidden Figures.”)
The film’s middle third is a mixed bag of subplots and diversions. The three would-be robbers try a “practice” run by shoplifting from a local supermarket, which doesn’t make much sense but provides a few amusing moments. They also turn to a shady pot dealer, Jesus (John Ortiz), for bank-robbing advice. Joe reunites his granddaughter (Joey King) with her estranged dad (Peter Serafinowicz), while Al falls for a neighborhood woman, Annie (Ann-Margret). There isn’t much to that relationship, but Arkin, ever the low-key show-stealer, is fun to watch as a confirmed bachelor who slowly lets down his guard.
The original film addressed death in a very moving way and even included a funny-sorrowful scene of Joe losing control of his bladder. There’s nothing at all like that here. Instead, Braff’s movie spends more time on the cat-and-mouse game between our heroes and a cocky FBI agent (Matt Dillon). It also offers a tidy ending that feels miles away from the original’s bittersweet denouement.
One more point of comparison: The original robbers used real bullets during the robbery, while the new ones use blanks. That’s Braff’s new version of “Going in Style” in a nutshell: fun, entertaining and painless.