It’s tempting to refer to Going in Style, the 2017 remake of Martin Brest’s 1979 bank-caper comedy-drama, as “pabulum,” in the sense of being “insipid, simplistic, or bland.” The irony, though, is that pabulum primarily refers to a nutritious (if unappetizing) foodstuff, and the new Going in Style has precisely the opposite character, since it qualifies—especially for seniors—as comfort food with no nutritional value.
In this polished but hollow remake, written by Theodore Melfi (Hidden Figures) and directed by Zach Braff (Garden State), three old codgers often kibitz about how they’ve earned the right to be able to enjoy their pie in their old age (and be able to afford it whenever they wish). The pie serves as a more suitable metaphor for Going in Style 2017: a tasty treat—if you like pie—of empty calories, enjoyable in the moment but hardly healthy. On that level, Going in Style proves short-term functional.
A heavyweight trio of Oscar winners play the codgers, which gets this Going in Style as far as it was going to go. Joe (Michael Caine) faces foreclosure on the home he’s bought for his daughter (Maria Dizzia) and granddaughter (Joey King of Braff’s Wish I Was Here), while his buddies Willie (Morgan Freeman) and Albert (Alan Arkin) share a house by financial necessity. At the film’s outset, they all become victimized by the new economy, when their pension dissolves following the acquisition of the steel company where they worked for decades.
Add to this Willie’s late-stage renal failure, and you have the recipe for desperate urgency that enables Joe to hatch a crazy plan. The trio will rob a bank that, in a twist of ethical convenience, has some responsibility for enabling their financial plight (and, in a broader sense, that of many middle and working-class Americans). Given modern security measures, this plot makes for an even harder sell in 2017 than in 1979. And so the trio must enlist a “lowlife” (John Ortiz) to plan the heist in exchange for a no-risk cut.
As for the risk facing the old friends, Joe points out that, in the worst case, they’ll wind up with “a bed, three meals a day, and better health care then we get now.” So far, so tolerable for this Grumpy Old Men with guns, complete with star chemistry and Ann-Margret as the aging but desirable sexpot (here paired with the grumpiest, Arkin). But Melfi and Braff turn down a blind alley when they stage an insultingly stupid grocery-store robbery for cheap laughs at the expense of our heroes.
This tenaciously populist, unreasonably optimistic feel-good fantasy fully embraces comedy, covering its ears and braying “Nah nah nah!” to drown out the original film’s darkness and realism and genuine emotion. It’s another sign of the times that Hollywood thinks we can no longer handle the original storyline. Quippy old farts, okay. Bank heist, hell yes. Interpolated pot-dispensary sequence, of course. Consequences, fuggedaboutit.