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Thursday, April 13, 2017 12:04 am

Style a safe retread

Michael Caine, Alan Arkin and Morgan Freeman in Going in Style.
PHOTO COURTESY WARNER BROS. PICTURES

 

Zach Braff’s Going in Style is a pleasant-enough movie. It has a breezy, light-hearted air to it and three veteran performers – all Oscar winners – who don’t break much of a sweat, but also don’t phone it in as they try to elevate the film’s pedestrian script, while its story of working class people being run roughshod over by corporations and banks is timely. It’s all just fine.

However, as far as spectatorship is concerned, this remake of the 1979 caper movie with George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg serves as a prime example of how audience expectations have deteriorated along with the studios’ willingness to cater to them. Putting these two features side by side offers an interesting and rather depressing look at how the challenging cinema of the 1970s has given way to a product that caters to the lowest common denominator where viewers are concerned, a resistance to challenging them narratively along with a willingness to make sure everyone leaves the theater happy.

Best friends for more than 35 years, Joe, Willie and Albert (Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin, respectively) toiled for years at the same factory before retiring. Joe lives with and takes care of his daughter and granddaughter while Willie and Albert share a house of their own. However, their lackluster but secure golden years are threatened when their pensions are wiped out via a merger between their former employer and a foreign manufacturer. Desperate and on the verge of losing all they’ve worked for, this creaky trio concocts a plan to rob the bank that handles the accounts of the merged corporations, deciding to take only the amount owed them through their pension, devoting any extra loot to charity.

There are many cute moments as we see these three cranks go through their daily routine, giving each other a hard time but conveying a sense of love and devotion for one another. Joe and Willie’s run-in with an experienced bank robber (John Ortiz) who may help them produces a chuckle or two, while multiple moments between Albert and grandma-on-the-make Annie (Ann-Margret) prove amusing as well. Other highlights include a practice heist at a neighborhood grocery that goes horribly wrong, as Braff shows a bit of style in an energetic montage that shows the three leads casing the bank, practicing their shooting skills and trying to get into shape.

However, any goodwill the director fosters in this and a few other well-realized scenes are negated when the actual heist occurs. The heist is an awkward, prolonged affair that fails to produce tension or laughs, both of which it strains mightily to achieve. While Style threatens to become an embarrassment at this moment, the professionalism of the veteran cast makes it watchable until the end.

However, it’s with this third act that I have the most objections, as screenwriter Theodore Melfi’s adherence to playing it safe prevents it from making any sort of impact. While the 1979 original will never classified as a searing drama, director Martin Brest and screenwriter Edward Cannon weren’t married to the idea that their story should have a happy ending with every conflict solved and wrapped up neatly with a big red ribbon. They knew that life doesn’t play out this way and a sense of realism and honesty was present – a product of 1970s American cinema – that made its character more human, their trials more relatable and our engagement more meaningful. Braff’s film isn’t concerned with any of this, content to send viewers on their merry ways knowing that all turned out just fine. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make for memorable cinema, and while I have no problem sitting through a bit of escapism now and then, I prefer movies that I don’t completely forget about in the time it takes me to walk across the theater parking lot to my car.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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