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Movie Review: ‘Going in Style’ Doesn’t Bring Anything New to the Heist Genre

By Bob Garver

This past weekend was not fun for new releases. No studio wanted to compete with “The Fate of the Furious” in its second weekend, so the slate was kept free of potential blockbusters. The top three movies at the box office were holdovers, nature documentary “Born In China” came in 4th (which did well on a small number of screens, but its appeal and availability are limited), then third-weekend holdover “Going In Style” in 5th. I did see the new thriller “Unforgettable,” but it deservedly bombed in 7th place (it would have been a one-star review). I’m settling on “Going in Style” as the movie to review this week because it’s playing on more screens than “Born in China” and “Unforgettable” and will likely make more money than the two combined.

As for “Going in Style,” remember a few weeks ago when I said I was in a bad mood when I saw “Smurfs: The Lost Village” and the Smurfs actually cheered me up even though I knew it wasn’t a good movie? I was in a bad mood because I had just seen “Going in Style.” This movie is so bad that it turned “Smurfs: The Lost Village” into a saving grace.

Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin star as three aging laborers who fall upon hard times when their mortgages spin out of control and they lose their pensions. The same bank is responsible for the mortgages and the pensions, and it has a smug, unconscionable staff. Caine goes in to one of the branches try to make sense of the matter and he’s met with rudeness from the staff, but surprising politeness from a bank robber. The robbery goes smoothly, the criminals get their money, and the bank doesn’t suffer too much because it’s the insurance company who loses money, not them. Caine decides to get together with Freeman and Arkin and rob the bank, partly to get the money they’re owed, and partly to get revenge.

Adorable old-men-robbing-the-big-mean-bank antics ensue. The trio start off as bumbling fools who can’t even shoplift from a grocery store, but they get more serious once they hire a criminal consultant (John Ortiz). They fight to overcome their lack of experience and waning physicality to stage a flawless robbery in which no one gets hurt. Except the traumatized people who are threatened with guns (filled with blanks, but they don’t know that). And the people at the bank who will probably lose their jobs once the bank decides to recoup the money with downsizing, with or without insurance.

But we’re not supposed to think about that. We’re supposed to think about our heroes and how they’re using an unconventional method to stand up for themselves. The problem is that they’re doing so anonymously, so the bank doesn’t know why it’s being punished or even that it’s being punished at all. The main characters are no help, they just want to take the money, scare some of the more disagreeable employees, and live the rest of their lives like fat cats, all while humiliating the police who have a community to protect. The film goes so far out of its way to convince us that these characters are somehow righteous, but the pleas for sympathy for their criminal behavior get old quick.

All the attempts to justify the robbery in “Going in Style” make my skin crawl, and the film doesn’t bring anything new to the heist genre. Fortunately the whole movie isn’t about the robbery. Sometimes it’s just about Caine, Freeman, and Arkin hanging out. There’s some funny banter, with Arkin having the highest rate of joke success. Gene Siskel once said that a movie needs to be more interesting than a documentary about the actors eating lunch. This movie knows it can’t be more interesting, but at least it’s smart enough to set a bunch of scenes in a diner so there’s plenty of footage of the actors eating lunch.

One and a Half Stars out of Five.

“Going in Style” is rated PG-13 for drug content, language and some suggestive material. Its running time is 96 minutes.

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu.