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Film review: 'Going in Style'

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In the heist comedy "Going in Style," Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin star as Joe, Willie, and Albert, lifelong friends who hatch a drastic, late-in-life plan to become bank robbers. The catalyst for this career change comes after the factory which employs the men suddenly decides to shift manufacturing overseas to Vietnam, leaving their workforce jobless and denying their pensions.

The film is a remake of Martin Brest's somewhat under the radar 1979 film starring George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg, but director Zach Braff and writer Ted Melfi ("Hidden Figures") have sanded down the rougher edges of the original film. They've removed much of the darkness and melancholy that comedies of that era could still get away with -- and the result is blandly inoffensive. But it's breezy and doesn't take itself seriously, and filled with the sorts of jokes you can probably predict: "Modern technology; how does it work?" and "Oy, my body isn't what it used to be!" The revamped film plays like "Grumpy Old Bank Robbers," right down to the presence of Ann-Margret (lovely as ever) as a romantic interest for Arkin's character.

We don't learn much in the way of the men's backgrounds; Joe and Willie have children and grandchildren they want to provide for, though Albert has no one else in his life. But Joe's ultimate justification is simple enough to understand: "I want to live better than I am." Caine, Freeman, and Arkin are talented enough performers that they inject their characters with just a bit of pathos. Meanwhile, Melfi's script attempts to add some deeper layers, framing the robberies as payback for a systemic problem: once society has decided that its members' usefulness has run its course, they're often left stranded with little in the way of a lifeline.

Braff stages the film's robbery sequences with a sitcom-y style, working hard to assure us that despite any gunfire, this is still a comedy. To keep our leads even more sympathetic, they vow to steal only what would have been in their pensions. If they manage to get more, they'll donate it to a worthy cause.

The friends enlist some professional help, plying a shady criminal type (John Ortiz) to act as a consultant. Naturally, he also runs a medicinal marijuana dispensary (cue the obligatory scene of old folks getting stoned). They also have a foil in the form of an overly suspicious FBI agent (Matt Dillon). A funny Kenan Thompson appears as the manager of a grocery store where the trio stage a test run that goes amusingly astray, and Christopher Lloyd adds a dose of zany humor as a senile acquaintance of the trio.

There are no real surprises to be found in "Going in Style"; the real draw is seeing Caine, Freeman, and Arkin share the screen, and Braff and Melfi are at least smart enough not to pretend otherwise. The film is loaded with scenes of the three of them together, just shooting the breeze. Watching them riff off one another is a pleasure; a pleasant reminder that being a movie star isn't just a young person's game.

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