With some movies, what you see is what you get. “Going in Style” is one of those movies. There’s little on the surface here and even less underneath, but what is there is usually funny enough to carry it through its moments of weakness. The cast is game, if underutilized, and when director Zach Braff (“Wish I Was Here”) taps into the energy a bank robbery naturally invites — even one perpetrated by octogenarians — his newest flick becomes a treat.
Updated from the 1979 film of the same name, “Going in Style” tells the story of three seniors who decide to rob a bank after their pension fund is dissolved. Without a doubt, Alan Arkin (“Argo”), Morgan Freeman (“Ben-Hur”) and Michael Caine (“The Last Witch Hunter”) are the movie’s greatest assets, and it’s a shame Braff doesn’t lean on them as often as they deserve. The interplay between them works more often than not, and together they are able to foster a believable longtime relationship between their characters.
Of the three, Arkin’s deadpan cynicism as Albert makes him a standout, though it’s not that difficult a competition. The actors may be solid, as befits their Academy Award-winning statuses, but their characters need work. Caine plays Joe, who hatches the initial idea to rob the bank but is otherwise the most one-note, plainly good-natured guy onscreen at any given moment. Freeman, who only goes along with the plan to get a new kidney, has apparently reached the point in his iconic career where all producers can think to do with him is place him in mortal danger for a heavy-handed lesson in mortality. Given this material, it’s almost more impressive that Caine, Freeman and Arkin make their Joe, Willie and Albert as lifelike as they do.
That being said, there are flashes throughout the film of the wit and personality that these stars deserve. A mid-story “training montage” provides the film’s pacing a shot in the arm and is well-photographed and edited, using inventive graphics and inserts to chart the three men’s progress as wannabe robbers. The heist itself is a fun show of each character’s personality, and Arkin again steal the show with a surprise “Heat”-like monologue.
Ultimately, what “Going in Style” lacks most is personality. Besides its stars, it is almost irritatingly lethargic. Its story is very reminiscent of “Tower Heist,” but it lacks the energy, comic or otherwise, that could have sustained it through its many slower moments. Instead, it spends time on forced life lessons that could have been spent on comedy and characters, both of which would have helped it stand out. As it is, it’s mostly just a string of “I’m too old for this” and “Fish out of water” jokes that get old fast, placing more and more pressure on the leads and their chemistry.
Thankfully, the trio of legends prove up to the task. Due to their work, “Going in Style” rises just above its generic roots to become a charming enough comedy that likely won’t be remembered by many by the end of the year. It would be hard to argue that that’s not the point, though. Braff wasn’t trying to remake the wheel here. By all appearances, his goal was to make a goofy comedy with three of the best actors of their generation, and in that he succeeded.