April 18, 2017

Drew Reviews: Going in Style

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It has been 10 months since my last review for MZNow and a lot has happened since then. The wife had twins, little Tommy made first chair violin and we finally had to lay Mom to rest right before Christmas. If any of this were indeed true, I may have some reason for why it has been so long since I submitted a piece for the show. God knows they’re desperately in need of the material and I have nothing better to do. The real reason is that unless you want to see a film that is socially relevant, culturally conscious, animated or total crap, you haven’t been to the movies in a long time, just like I haven’t.

So why come out of retirement? What’s so special about this film? This film is a singular moment in Hollywood: an attempt to wave the white flag and admit they are completely out of ideas to the point of remaking an almost completely forgotten film that no one was wanting to have remade. It’s Trump’s America! Nothing needs to make sense anymore! Some studio executive saw the demographics that Americans are getting older, one of his hacks remembered some old guy comedy from the 70’s and *BAM* here we are. In the ultimate Trump tribute, Warner Brothers cast three Oscar winning actors in the three leads of a production that has dubiousness written all over it and will likely play well in areas of the country where views are narrow, thoughts are fleeting and dental care occurs only on an emergency basis.

Despite the entire production being patently unnecessary, it has a rich historical background, provided you can make the mental reach to consider the deeply forgettable 1979 original as something historic. The three leads in the original – George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasburg were respectively 83, 61 and 78 at the time. If you were to truly buy into the premise of the film you’d believe the actors to be at death’s door, however Burns and Carney lived to be 100 and 85 whereas Strasburg croaked shortly thereafter at the age of 82. The three leads in the “reloaded” 2017 version are Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin who are 84, 79 and 83 respectively. What we all know now is that this is bad news for Alan Arkin, who’d be best spending his remaining days selecting a nice mausoleum and getting his affairs in order.

For those unfamiliar with the “plot”, it’s the story of three old dudes who the well has ran dry for financially who decide to “go in style” by robbing a bank. Naturally the bank that they rob in the film is the same bank who had been screwing the Michael Caine character over on his adjustable rate mortgage. This apparently didn’t warrant a rewrite after Hell or High Water came out last year with the same plotline. You have to really applaud this, because not only is remake just a nice way of saying rip-off, this goes the extra mile of ripping off another recently made film just to prove the studio is so painfully devoid of ideas that they’re just plugging the holes in their boat until it inevitably sinks in an obscene Titanic-esque catastrophe.

This is the part of the review where I usually dress down the leads in the film, and I would not want to make any exceptions this time around:

Michael Caine– “Joe” – Michael Caine is so old in this film that each scene he appears in he looks like he just woke up from a dirt nap. Caine has now been old for so long and has played so many characters that are “the old guy” that he has apparently lost control and has these characters all mixed up inside his head like a geriatric slurry. Caine was in another film in 2009, Harry Brown, where he played an old badass, and he sadly seemed to be having flashbacks of this character on and off throughout the film. Multi-Personality Disorder might be hysterical in films like Raising Cain and Fight Club, but it’s quite disturbing and out of place in a film that is supposed to be a light-hearted comedy.

Morgan Freeman – “Willie” – Morgan Freeman is so old in this film that you can literally hear death’s door creaking in the background during the frequent pauses in his dialogue. The man who once played Joe Clark in Lean on Me is now attempting to position himself in Hollywood as more old-man-on-Paxil than old-man-on-Viagra and sleepwalk the balance of his career into oblivion. Sure, he’s watchable, but we don’t care. Morgan Freeman is best kept where he belongs, as a voiceover.

Alan Arkin – “Albert” – Call me a sucker for old Jews. Alan Arkin is so old and so Jewish in this film that he gives it a faint veil of guilt. I’m already deeply sorry for him because of the Strasburg curse he has inherited from the original. The most watchable of the three leads, and generally always on-the-money in his roles, Arkin is the “thinking man’s” Alan Alda. It’s a shame that 25 years from now he will be so dead and so forgotten that he will be truly Strasburg-esque.

Ann-Margaret – “Annie” – Ann-Margaret is so old in this film that her tits are droopier than a lost puppy dog. If you’re thinking, “Wait, this sounds familiar to me…” there is as reason. She essentially played the same character in the 1993 film Grumpy Old Men, opposite Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau and Burgess Meredith, which is interestingly one of the few other old people comedies ever made, and one that shares many commonalities with what is now the Going in Style “franchise”. If you think that you’re in a time warp at this point, that’s OK, because I feel the same way. Hers was the ultimate “six of one, half-dozen of the other” performance of the old-chick-with-a-libido role across the two films.

The Periphery – Where this film deserves its credit is in the peripheral areas attached to the production that provided tiny windows of creativity. The story and dodderfest of the three leads were etched in stone, however the editing, city shots, supporting roles and music were not, and all were above-average. Every geek’s favorite actor, Christopher Lloyd, played the role we’ve been dying for him to play, a 35-year-older Jim Ignatowski who can’t seem to sort out his meds. Keenan Thompson killed it in his small role as a supermarket security manager. However, Matt Dillon made it abundantly clear to us that if we want to see him ever again it will either be on The Smoking Gun or in a sequel to There’s Something About Mary.

Ocean’s Eleven “Lite” – Not to be outdone in quantity of rip-offs, Going in Style reloaded is also a caper film and one that shamelessly uses the blueprints and lifts the cinematography from Ocean’s Eleven (2001, also reloaded). This film is like peeling an onion, where each new layer that tears off is a new exercise in plagiaristic license. I would imagine that when the ’79 version was released there was a critic like me who called the studio out on ripping off the original 1960 Rat Pack version of Ocean’s Eleven. What is also exciting is the possibility that a sequel may rise from the ooze of this “original” just like in the case of Grumpier Old Men (1995). If that happens, for possibly the first time in Hollywood history, there will be a sequel to a remake that ripped off another remake who’s original version likely ripped off the original version of the film that the remake ripped off! And for the superfecta of rip-offs, they’ll rip off Grumpier Old Men in the process. Not only is the old people comedy an endangered species, it is one that is steeped in bizarrely incestuous ripping off practices that are apparently the hallmark of the genre.

It’s OK if… – When it comes to the core message that the film is trying to deliver, it came as a huge relief that there was no “moral to the story”. Instead, we were delivered a rehash of time-honored axioms that have been known to justify bad behavior – robbing a bank is a victimless crime, it’s ok to steal if you can’t afford to pay for it on your own, it’s ok to steal if you don’t get caught, it’s ok to steal if it’s for your family, etc. In this case, the bank and the cops are the bad guys, something that should resonate with anyone. If your life isn’t working out quite how you hoped it would, that’s OK because you will always have the option of committing armed robbery to turn that around.

The Verdict – Despite delivering an end product that hopelessly slogs through a seemingly infinite subterfuge of rip-offs and rip-offs of other rip-offs, the sage executives at Warner Brothers successfully delivered a comedy that is truly “too old to fail”. Despite several sequences earlier in the film that were as contrived as they were unoriginal, enough laughs and general amusement is sprinkled throughout the balance of the film that it works as a whole. The acting from the three Academy Award winning leads is at least passable and buoyed by some sharp work from the supporting cast. See it, but don’t bother with the big screen. Two-and-a-half stars.

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