Coming off of two Academy Award nominations for Hidden Figures and following up the surprisingly effective St. Vincent, it seems like Theodore Melfi can do no wrong. But maybe he needs to direct his own scripts for the magic to work, since Going In Style just doesn't.
There's not really anything seriously wrong with the story -- a cut-down remake of the 1979 version starring George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg -- though like Melfi's other work it's built around a syrupy sentimentality that could easily be cloying in the wrong hands. Which, in this case, belong to director Zach Braff, who doesn't have Melfi's magic touch for making this sort of sweetness palatable.
The setup is pretty much the same: Joe, Al, and Willie (Michael Caine, Alan Arkin, and Morgan Freeman this time around) are aging pensioners who decide to rob a bank. In the original they were just isolated, abandoned, and bored, with nothing to do but collect social security and scrape by month to month. But evidently that's not sympathetic enough, so this time they've jammed in Corporations Screwing Over the Little Guy, depriving them of their pensions. So, seeming to crib from last year's Hell or High Water, they decide to rob the bank that's liquidating their assets. Oh, and the same bank that's foreclosing on Joe's house after screwing him over with a subprime refinance.
For more sympathy: Joe lives with his daughter and granddaughter (Braff regular Joey King); Willie doesn't get to see his daughter and granddaughter very much, and is on the verge of kidney failure besides; and Al hates to make ends meet teaching saxophone lessons to kids with no talent. Yeah, that last one doesn't exactly measure up, so they throw Ann-Margaret at him as a love interest.
Arkin is the only one of the three who comes close to the cranky, bitter streak that ran through the original threesome, as you might expect from every other role he's ever played. The closest Freeman and Caine come is a certain impish sense of putting one over on the younger folks -- Joe's ex-son-in-law (Peter Serafinowicz), the FBI agent investigating the robbery (Matt Dillon) -- who underestimate just what these geezers can do. The irony, of course, being that the filmmakers don't trust audiences to get on board with old guys who don't fit the stereotype of grandfatherly beneficence. It even has them commit to donating everything above their expected future pension earnings to charity, so good-hearted they are.
It also falls short as a heist flick, which is sort of a shame from the star of the original Italian Job. Again, it's hard to pick out anything specifically wrong, but there's nothing particularly right about it either. The plan plays out in retrospect, explaining how things went right, but it leaves little chance to play with audience expectations and suggest that things might go truly wrong. Of course, the original didn't either, but it didn't try to pretend it was a heist movie in the first place. And even the one truly unfortunate turn in the original is blunted and sweetened here.
And as if the whole corporate-greed angle weren't enough of an issue, there's another one lurking, complete with charity PSA tie-ins. It's the perfect topping for a confection that anyone can gum down, no matter how toothless.
Rating: 2 out of 5