Somebody at Warners must’ve seen Going in Style, the 1979 film about old men robbing a bank, and decided that a happier, peppier version could be profitable. The original has no less than George Burns, Jackie Gleason sidekick Art Carney, and method-acting legend Lee Strasberg as old fogies who decide one day to pull a stick-up job. The new version has the same setup, with Oscar winners Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin as the geezers-turned-crooks, but they are two entirely different movies.
The original, directed by future Beverly Hills Cop helmer Martin Brest, sank into drama. It starts off funny, with these artful codgers bored with sitting on park benches, bumbling their way through planning a heist. Then bleakness begins to seep in as the audience is invited to wonder who would catch the main trio first: the police or the Grim Reaper.
The remake isn’t as dreary, even when its protagonists are so broke they literally can’t afford their own pie slices. This time, these guys have a Very Noble Reason for robbing a bank: The steel factory they’ve worked at for years is being bought out, and their pensions swallowed up in the process. Plus, they’re already struggling — Joe (Caine) is not only taking care of his daughter and granddaughter, but facing foreclosure now that his mortgage has tripled. Willie (Freeman) needs a new kidney if he wants to keep on living for a few more years, and Albert (Arkin), who lives with Willie and sleeps on his living-room recliner, is barely getting by teaching kids saxophone lessons.
Rather than time itself, banks and big business are the bad guys of this Style, as they force our geriatric gents to become Reservoir Dogs, so they don’t end up without a pot to (hardly) piss in. But the movie never succumbs to woefulness. The crew has a grand ol’ time trying to be criminals. They even do a practice run that involves shoplifting at a supermarket, a scene that serves no other purpose than showing three of our greatest actors slip food all over their persons and try to waddle their way out of the store without being caught.
Yeah, Style is some fun, frivolous schmaltz. After quirking it up all to hell with his divisive indies Garden State and Wish I Was Here, former sitcom star Zach Braff is now dipping into director-for-hire territory, taking a wisecracking script from Theodore Melfi (who just proved people will see good movies starring black women with his latest directorial effort, Hidden Figures) and making a cranky-but-cuddly film about senior citizens still having the gusto to stick it to the man. Indeed, Caine, Freeman, and Arkin all look pleased as punch to be out of the house and taking part in screwball shenanigans. Ann-Margret even pops up as a horny Golden Girl ready to give up the bloomers to Arkin’s character.
Inevitably, the new Style is hopeful, encouraging audiences young and old to believe that even in our nursing-home years we can accomplish remarkable feats. (To quote a line from Blame It on Rio, another Caine movie about aging, you’re never too old to be crazy.) Watch the original if you’re interested in a deep, witty character study of men making the best of their final years. But if you just wanna see some old farts do some righteous, goofy shit, this remake is here for you.