I know I bitched a little a few weeks ago about the Beauty and the Beast remake being a little unnecessary a couple of weeks ago. At least that movie was enjoyable and sweet on some levels. Then came the Ghost in the Shell remake that looked good and had decent performances, but was a letdown as far as remakes go.
Now comes Going in Style, a total disaster remake of the “old guys rob a bank wearing rubber noses” bleak comedy from back in 1979 that starred George Burns and Art Carney. The original was directed by Martin Brest, the guy who would go on to direct Beverly Hills Cop, Midnight Run and, uh oh, Gigli.
Martin Brest, where are you? Yes, Gigli sucked an awful lot, but you had a decent batting average until then, and you haven’t done anything since bombing with Gigli back in 2003? That film didn’t kill Ben Affleck’s career, so why did it knock you off?
Back on point, this remake loses all of the charm of that fun and slightly dark Burns vehicle. It’s super heavy on schmaltz, and it asks a strong cast to embarrass themselves for more than 90 minutes.
Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin replace Burns, Carney and Lee Strasberg in the updated story, and that setup probably looked pretty good on paper. Unfortunately, they handed the film to Zach Braff, the guy from Scrubs, to direct. Braff does so with all the subtlety and nuance of an M80 going off in a candlelight yoga class.
The comedic moments demand that you laugh, and you don’t. The touching moments grab you by the collar and scream, “Cry for me!” and you don’t. The heist itself insists that it is clever while being rather rote and mundane. The payoff involves a little girl basically doing something totally wrong, and it feels weird.
Caine replaces Burns as Joe, the brains of the group. Joe, during a visit to a bank to complain about his upcoming foreclosure, witnesses a bank robbery. So, naturally, when he and his pals’ pensions go away, he decides to rob a bank.
Then, after some gentle persuading with Willie (Freeman) and Albert (Arkin), they rob a bank. The big twist here is that they rob a bank wearing Rat Pack masks instead of the rubber nose glasses they wore in the original. That’s the biggest twist the film has to offer.
The heist itself just sort of happens. Braff shows you some of the planning and execution in flashbacks, but this technique doesn’t reveal the heist as anything ingenious. The whole beauty of the ’79 Going in Style is that three old men simply robbed a bank, and rather sloppily. Trying to make them seasoned, crafty pros in this one is a major misstep.
The original, just a few minutes in, had Joe deciding to rob a bank basically because he was bored and broke. Now, Joe’s motivations are all trumped up and complicated. All of the spontaneity is lost.
Of course, Ann-Margret is around to sleep with Albert, the grumpy one, and make him feel young again. That’s Margret’s job these days. She gets the “sleep with the old guy” role that she had in Grumpy Old Men again. I think her character would be up for a good firing, the way she aggressively pursues Albert while on the clock in the produce aisle. It’s hard watching a great, fun actress being reduced to a stereotype, that stereotype being the “older lady who tries to grab your junk by the avocados” role.
This is a case of well enough should’ve been left well alone. All of the dark, twisted fun has been taken out of the premise, replaced by mawkish sentimentality. Caine, Freeman, Arkin and Margret are lost in a screenplay that doesn’t feel the need for inventiveness, and simply tries to get by on their star power. It’s not befitting of their legendary statuses.
The movie is a real bummer—a blue paint bomb in a bag full of hundreds and fifties. 2017 is shaping up as the year of the unnecessary remakes.