Zach Braff must be desperate for work; it’s the only logical reason why he would agree to direct a remake of 1979’s “Going in Style,” a movie so unmemorable that most people have never even heard of it. It’s completely out of character for a filmmaker like Braff, whose first two features (“Garden State” and “Wish I Was Here”) were such deeply personal pieces of work that it’s very surprising to see him slumming it as a director-for-hire. Then again, he probably couldn’t resist the opportunity to work alongside three Hollywood legends, and it’s hard to blame him, because the casting of Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin is pretty much the only thing that this movie has going for it.
The actors play a trio of lifelong friends and former co-workers who have just been informed that their pension fund at the local steel factory is being dissolved, leaving the already financially-strapped retirees in a tough spot. Without a pension to pay his mortgage, Joe (Caine) is at risk of losing the home that he shares with his daughter and grandchild to bank foreclosure, and Willie (Freeman) is in desperate need of a kidney transplant that his insurance won’t cover. The curmudgeonly Albert (Arkin), meanwhile, has practically given up on life already, despite the romantic advances of peppy supermarket clerk Annie (Ann-Margaret). But when Joe witnesses a bank robbery in progress and gets the idea to pull a heist of his own, he convinces Willie and Albert to help him rob the bank that’s responsible for screwing them over.
What begins as a somewhat promising mix between “Grumpy Old Men” and “Ocean’s Eleven,” however, quickly turns into a pedestrian, paint-by-numbers comedy that wallows in its own genericness. Although the screenplay by Theodore Melfi (“Hidden Figures”) is sprinkled with some pertinent commentary on ageism and corporate greed, the film is basically just an excuse to laugh at old people as they get high on medical marijuana, shoplift from grocery stores and engage in other lowbrow hijinks. Caine, Freeman and Arkin are all enjoyable in their respective roles and have great chemistry, but they seem to be on auto-pilot for the most part, resigned to doing the bare minimum in order to collect their paychecks and move on to the next job.
It was a real coup getting these three actors (as well as other screen veterans like Ann-Margaret and Christopher Lloyd) in a movie together, and “Going in Style” definitely benefits from their involvement, but that only counts for so much without a good script to support them. Though it’s nice to see that Hollywood is still creating leading roles for actors of their age, they deserve better than this. “Going in Style” thankfully isn’t as bad as it could have been (there are a few decent laughs and the climactic heist is actually pretty clever), but it’s the type of innocuous and forgettable studio film that makes you wonder why anyone even bothered in the first place, especially when the talent on both sides of the camera is capable of so much more.