Master class

The film doubles as an anthropological study of old dude hat choices.

The film doubles as an anthropological study of old dude hat choices.

Rated 4.0

In Going in Style, director Zach Braff’s remake of the 1979 caper comedy, Michael Caine plays Joe, a retired steel worker. His pension has dried up, his mortgage is in default and he’s received a foreclosure notice from his bank. He gets no sympathy from his banker, who hardly remembers Joe or the usurious refi he (the banker) talked him into three years ago.

Joe’s best friends, Willie (Morgan Freeman) and Albert (Alan Arkin), are in the same boat: Their pensions are gone too. At a meeting of former employees, they all learn why. It seems their old company has been gobbled up by a conglomerate that moved offshore and liquidated the pension fund, leaving retirees high and dry. And Joe’s bank brokered the deal.

It so happens that on that fruitless visit to his oily banker, Joe had one of those life-changing experiences that you don’t recognize until after the fact—the bank was robbed by a trio of masked gunmen. Joe noticed with admiration the robbers’ efficiency, storming in, grabbing the money and making their getaway with the precision of a well-oiled Swiss watch. Like Fred Astaire dancing, they made it look so easy that now Joe, looking back, thinks, “Hey, I could do that.” It takes a while to talk Willie and Al into it, but we know he will; if he didn’t, there wouldn’t be a movie.

Up to this point, Going in Style looks to be just another shambling vehicle for over-the-hill stars, like Last Vegas or Grumpy Old Men—a lightweight comedy that skates by on the pleasure of old pros in action. Then about midway there’s a scene involving Joe’s ex-son-in-law Murphy (Peter Serafinowicz), a ne’er-do-well pot dealer peripherally involved in Joe’s planned heist, and Joe’s granddaughter (Joey King), to whom Joe has been surrogate father since Murphy flaked out. There’s nothing plot-related or mechanical in the scene, and it begins to hint at something more under the movie’s formulaic surface.

Then the formula itself really perks up. Writer Theodore Melfi shows that his Oscar nomination for Hidden Figures was no fluke, as he takes the story places it never went in 1979 (when the stars were George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg). It becomes more complex, with more surprises and higher stakes—about $2 million more than the paltry $35,000 George Burns and company were after—and works itself out with the satisfying symmetry of, yes, a well-oiled Swiss watch. Director Braff keeps things moving with his usual sprightly charm (though he and Melfi do hit us over the head a bit with the climactic Big Reveal), and there’s a pleasant bonus in the form of Ann-Margret as a romantic match for the curmudgeonly Al.

And one last thought: Keep your eye on a girl named Annabelle Chow; she’s going places, and you heard it here first. She has barely five minutes of screen time, but Academy members take note—that supporting actress category was created for performances like hers. For your consideration.