Review – Going, Going, Not-Quite-Gone (“Going In Style”)

Looks like it’s remake time again! Harken back to 1979 and the dramedy that starred iconic George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg, about three septuagenarians who, just to relieve their boredom, decided to rob a bank. Spinning this version with Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Alan Arkin, they decide to rob a bank because they’ve been cheated on their pension checks. Welcome to 2017!

 

30 years is a long time to spend working for a company, but these three retired BFF’s did, and now they’re in for a very rude awakening. Their company, Wechsler Steel, has just shipped their entire firm overseas and frozen all their assets, which translates into NO more pension checks. That’s serious bad news! Free-wheeling Willie (Freeman) is in need of a kidney ASAP, his curmudgeon roomie (who has a death-joke fixation), Al (Arkin) needs the money to buy them food, but Joe (Caine) is the worst off. His bank, Williams- burg Savings, is going to foreclose on his house where he lives with his daughter and grand-daughter. But then something unusual happens.

While pleading for help at the bank, Joe witnesses a professional robbery, and the wheels start turning. Dining at their crappy union hall, Joe proposes that they do the same thing and Willie is all in, but Al is dead-against it. Trying their skills at robbery (a test run) at their local Value Town market, Joe & Willie are caught shoplifting and are reprimanded by the store manager (Kenan Thompson). The only one NOT upset is Annie (Anne-Margret), a Value Town worker who, for some inexplicable reason, has the holy hots for the acerbic Al. Go figure.

Anyway, after Al finds out Wechsler Steel is going to pay-off the company’s debts using THEIR pension money, he explodes and decides to help rob the bank with his buddies. They find Jesus (John Ortiz), a local friendly hood (he uses his pet store as a front) who teaches them the finer points of bank robbery in your basic montage. Using an elaborate plan that involves their union’s charity carnival as a cover (and alibi), they pull-off the heist with juuuuust a little complication: Willie is almost ID’d by a little Asian girl.

Raking in over 2 million, they get away scot-free, but FBI agent Hamer (Matt Dillon) is hot on the case and, thanks to a surveillance video, thinks he’s got them dead-to-rights, but he’ll have to get past the guys air-tight alibi’s (and Willie’s sudden stay in the hospital–that kidney thing, y’know), to arrest them. Will Hamer finally find the one piece of evidence that puts all three of them away for good? Will Joe use that money to pay his mortgage, even though the FBI will surely put two and two together? And how is showing Christopher Lloyd as man with dementia remotely funny?

One thing’s for sure, the screenplay by Theodore Melfi (he co-wrote & directed the great Oscar nominated Hidden Figures) is more up-beat and funnier than the original dour and dramatic 1979 version, where almost everyone dies by the end. However, the tone is all over the map what with the addition of everyone’s backstories, families, and friends. There’s SO much story about everything else BUT the bank robbery, that you get side-tracked into wanting the robbery to finally happen! But at least Melfi does add some decent twists…  along with some obvious plot holes.

And director Zack Braff, who doesn’t have the best track record in directing (Garden State, Wish I Was Here) does show-off some nice touches here and there, but stops short in oh-so many missed opportunities for some great comedic moments. Thankfully, the picture does have the antics of Arkin for the comedy gold, and Freeman & Caine for the real acting balance. Plus, you got Anne-Margret, who still looks and sounds terrific.


Going In Style (1979)

Imagine this: you’re a young fledgling Hollywood writer/director working on only your second movie when you get a chance to direct your script with Art Carney (from TV’s legendary Honeymooner’s), iconic George Burns (50’s TV & vaudeville showman), and master-class actor Lee Strasberg (creator of THE Strasberg “method” of acting).  Uh… no pressure! No pressure at all!
 

But 27-year-old Martin Brest, using his script and hoping these three acting legends wouldn’t walk off the set, made history. The dramedy is set in Queens, N.Y. and concerns three senior BFF’s: Joe (Burns), Al (Carney), and Willie (Strasberg) that all share a small apartment together and live off their social security checks. But, they’re bored, spending their days sitting on a park bench, reading newspapers, feeding pigeons, and idle chit-chatting. Just to break the tedium, Joe gets a really stupid, brilliant idea… let’s go rob a bank! If they get caught, what’s the worst that can happen? Jail ain’t that bad for a septuagenarian what with free room & board and meals!

Initially, Al’s on board, able to secretly acquire some hand guns from his nephew, Pete (Charles Hallahan), but Willie is a bit reluctant at first. They ‘case’ a upper Manhattan bank and the next day hold it up, leaving a criss-crossing trail behind to follow. The result? About $35K in stolen cash! But the excitement proves to be too much for Willie and he has a heart attack the next day, leaving the guys feeling bad enough to give Willie’s “insurance money” ($25K) to Pete to open a gas station; a personal dream for him.

Joe and Al decide to have some fun and fly to Las Vegas and play craps where, under Al’s incredible dice-throwing luck, they net about $71K! Geez, I wanna party with these guys!! But soon after getting back home with their new-found wealth, Al succumbs to his health and dies as well! But Joe won’t have time to attend his funeral, because just as he fesses-up to Pete about the bank robbery all gives him all money to keep, the Feds show up and arrest him on the spot. A sad ending, to be sure, but Pete is reassured by Joe that he’s happy in prison where he’s treated like a king and, jokingly quips, “Besides, no tinhorn joint like this could ever hold me!”.

Not exactly the LOL movie you’d expect from three great actors and two legendary comedians, but more of a light-comedy character study of old-age and the lasting bonds of friendship. Director Martin Brest would go on to direct other great comedies like Beverly Hills Cop and Midnight Run, but you can see the depth of his hand in this early work that would come in later when he tackled Scent of a Women and Meet Joe Black. Michael Small delivers the jaunty musical score, a kinda cheery Scott Joplin-ish tribute that lifts the serious tone up.

But it’s the acting here you really want to watch. All three are in their prime: Art Carney who, after a long absence came back in 1974 to win an Academy Award in Harry and Tonto, and was enjoying an upswing in his twilight years, Lee Strasberg, the zen-master of acting, shows you how its done with greatness, and George Burns, who started his show business career in 1923 vaudeville with his partner/wife Gracie Allen, shows a rare serious side with devastating results. The movie, although slow moving and not the full-on riotous comedy you’d expect, does have it’s moments and, doggone, you’ve got Burns, Carney, and Strasberg together in one picture!!  

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