Zach Braff’s lazy remake of ‘Going in Style’

Going in StyleThis will be the second consecutive piece I have written for Curnblog which begins by referencing an earlier piece I have written for Curnblog. That may well indicate that I have written too many things for Curnblog, or perhaps that I have just run out of ideas. But if I have run out of ideas, I am in good company. For it seems that Hollywood has run dry as well.

How else do you explain the remake of Going in Style currently using up oxygen in multiplexes across the States?

Back in June of 2015, I wrote something about the Brad Peyton disaster flick San Andreas which lamented how there didn’t seem to be any genuine emotional cost in any of Hollywood’s most mainstream movies. It seemed as if the major filmmakers had decided their audiences were all four years old and incapable of handling the death of a good guy. In the new version of Going in Style, we have further evidence. We are all four year olds.

Back in 1979, Martin Brest gathered up George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg to stage a caper comedy in which a bunch of old guys – and I don’t mean “Hollywood old,” which I believe is now officially pegged at 32, but really old – team up to rob a bank. The results were rather good. The movie will not change your life, but it is fun, and kind of makes you think. One of the key elements of that movie – SPOILER ALERT – is that two of its three heroes end up dying while the third ends up in prison.

But our delicate sensibilities in 2017 cannot handle such logically-grounded narratives and so in a shockingly soft and lazy remake by Zach Braff (director) and Theodore Melfi (writer), — MAJOR SPOILER ALERT — nobody dies and nobody goes to jail. That is, unless you consider the fact that one of our three heroes ends up getting married at the end as the equivalent of going to jail. But since he gets married to Ann-Margret, I consider that a sentence many of us would willingly accept.

I’ll come back to this idea of infantilizing audiences in a moment. But first, let me throw one more accusation at Braff and Melfi. This is one lazy-ass movie. My evidence? Look, if you feel the need to use one adorable little girl as a cute plot contrivance, I get it. And Annabelle Chow is wonderfully adorable as Lucy, the little girl who abets the good guy robbers because, I suppose, children can see good hearts lurking beneath the guns and the Rat Pack masks which those robbers employ. But Going in Style feels the need to use three such characters. Joey King and Ashley Aufderheide are called in to play granddaughters of two of the three old guys, and sweeter, more loving granddaughters there could not be. Each of these three ethnically diverse girls is matched up with a mother, but no father of much significance, so that (insert whichever old man character is appropriate) can fill a crucial role in her life. Melfi and Braff couldn’t even be bothered to come up with a little boy, or a pet gerbil. They just kept going to that adorable girl well over and over.

That is what I mean by lazy.

So of course the three leads are fun to watch. Alan Arkin is the best thing in the movie, and Morgan Freeman, though required to be just a bit too endearing, tosses off casual one liners better than anybody this side of Robert Mitchum. Michael Caine has the unenviable task of being the guy in the center, which makes him just a bit dull. But it’s still Michael Caine. Considering that two of the three thieves are top lieutenants for one Bruce Wayne (granted, in a different cinematic universe), you’d think knocking over a bank would be a fairly simple matter. The rest of the cast is fine, given the mundane material. Christopher Lloyd and Josh Pais chew the scenery for a few laughs in what are blessedly small roles.

So there are a handful of laughs scattered throughout, and with such star power at its core, Going in Style could be a perfectly unobjectionable way to waste a couple of hours. But the fact that the filmmakers talk down so much to the audience blows whatever minor good will you might have out of the water and makes the end result shockingly bad. It’s not just that nobody dies. And it’s not just that the police investigation is so patently absurd, with an along-for-the-ride Matt Dillon failing to get the goods on these guys despite many obvious clues. It comes down to the fact that the filmmakers do not trust an audience to recognize that the desperate situation these men find themselves in – retirees screwed over by a cold, profit-at-all-costs mindset – has actual consequences, and that the decision to rob a bank is not a happy-go-lucky cure-all for the major problems facing the world today. That is where Going in Style is at its most maddening. It wants to use real issues such as the lack of a safety net for the elderly as a way to demand that we care about its characters, and then wants to laugh it all off with inane plot machinations.

And loveable old curmudgeons.

And cute little girls.

And I forgot to mention, there’s even a puppy.

Jonathan Eig has taught Screenwriting and Film History at Montgomery College (MD) for the past ten years. In that capacity, he has hosted the popular Montgomery College Film Series at the American Film Institute in Silver Spring, MD. He has been a regular contributor on Huffington Post and his writing about film can be found at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jon-eig/.

2 thoughts on “Zach Braff’s lazy remake of ‘Going in Style’

  1. I always feel a certain sadness when very good actors resort to ‘taking the money’ by appearing in such films. Then again, by his own admission, Caine has done that for much of his career. I would probably watch this film for Ann-margaret though, despite the flaws. I have had a crush on her for as long as I can remember, and she just got more attractive as she (and I ) got older.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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