“Going in Style’’ sets up as an old guy caper drama, a genre that in the past has come with a checklist: Viagra jokes. Incontinence humor. A fistfight with younger guys in a bar. An affair with a much younger woman. A sullen grandson who must come to respect the old timers.
But instead of checking them off the list, this movie avoids them.
In fact, director Zach Braff runs in the opposite direction of these stereotypes and all other things hackneyed, crafting an enjoyable caper comedy. The movie isn’t perfect, but it does the most important thing right: It adds dignity to its older characters, instead of stripping it away in the name of humor.
Take Willie, a former steelworker played by Morgan Freeman. He dresses with an old school stylishness, exudes satisfaction from getting a bad cup of coffee at a diner with his buddies (Michael Caine and Alan Arkin), and glows with life as he video chats with his daughter and granddaughter from his New York City apartment. Watching the first third of the film makes a pretty decent case for growing old.
But there’s conflict ahead for our heroes. The steel company they worked at gets bought by foreign concerns, and their pension disappears. Determined to right a wrong created by a corrupt system, they set in motion a bank heist that is more of a catharsis than a crime. This is a major change from the original “Going in Style,’’ a 1979 Martin Brest film starring George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg, whose characters robbed a bank to feel young again.
Braff (the former “Scrubs” star) and screenwriter Theodore Melfi (co-writer of “Hidden Figures”) demonstrate a reverence for their veteran actors, and Caine, Arkin and Freeman respond by giving their all. Arkin in particular embraces his role, with the same vibrant crankiness that won him an Academy Award for ‘’Little Miss Sunshine.’’ A scene where he suffers through a saxophone lesson, then talks a boy into giving up the instrument, is vintage Arkin.
That being said, there are several plot holes that are distracting. Running at a lean 96 minutes, there appear to be a couple of key scenes missing. And there’s a shoplifting episode that, while funny, smacks of being crafted just for the footage of Caine and Freeman in a low-speed chase on a grocery shopping scooter.
But all the little things more than make up for any larger story problems. Braff could have made an entire movie showing Caine, Arkin and Freeman riffing about the rose ceremony while watching “The Bachelor.’’
It’s not side-splittingly funny, but, like its lead characters, “Going in Style’’ grooves along nicely, until the credits roll and you realize it was time well spent.