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‘Going in Style’ should act its age

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Old person heist comedy lacking in laughs

Even in a cinematic landscape littered with mediocrities, you’re usually able to discern the reasoning behind a movie. Sure, it might not be GOOD, but you can at least understand the motivations that led to its being made.

Take “Going in Style,” for instance. It’s a prime example of the comedic subgenre I like to call “old people doing stuff” – essentially, it provides a chance for respected actors of a certain age to stroll through a movie and pick up a paycheck without having to try particularly hard. All they’re expected to do is be old and do something that you wouldn’t expect old people to do.

So it is with this movie, one that features an astonishing amount of talent – notables Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin lead the cast; Theodore Melfi (“Hidden Figures”) wrote the screenplay – yet still manages to elicit minimal laughs. It’s an exercise in laziness, relying almost exclusively on its strained premise for any entertainment value whatsoever.

Caine plays Joe, a retired steelworker whose pension is being cut off, leaving him unable to pay the bills – specifically his mortgage. And considering his daughter Rachel (Maria Dizzia, “37”) and granddaughter Brooklyn (Joey King, “Independence Day: Resurgence”) live with him, he really can’t afford to lose his house. Joe’s buddies and former co-workers Willie (Freeman) and Albert (Arkin) are in the same boat.

When Joe is inadvertently caught up in a bank robbery, he is struck by an idea that could solve all of his money woes in one fell swoop – he’ll rob a bank! He enlists Willie and Albert to join him and convinces his lowlife ex-son-in-law Murphy (Peter Serafinowicz, “John Wick: Chapter 2”) to hook him up with a guy named Jesus (John Ortiz, “Kong: Skull Island”) who can help them formulate a successful heist plan.

What follows is … predictable. Joe and his friends are laying it all on the line in hopes of maybe – jut maybe – turning their lives around. You’ve got the standard health scare (because they’re old) and the kind of icky sex stuff (again – because they’re old). And then, of course, there’s the heist, which goes about how you expect. There are ridiculous leaps in logic and a fair number of “jokes” that revolve entirely around the age of the actors (OLD!).

“Going in Style” is not good. It’s a comedy that doesn’t seem to think it needs anything more than its one-note premise to get laughs. There are interludes of forced, treacly sentimentality amidst the unfunny – a specialty of director Zach Braff (yes, that Zach Braff), who we probably all agree should stop directing movies at this point. The thing is, while Braff clearly doesn’t know any better, a lot of the other folks here do. Take Melfi, for example; he’s coming off “Hidden Figures,” for crying out loud – he’s definitely better than this cut-rate crap.

It’s a crying shame that a cast this talented is saddled with this tire fire. Not that Caine, Freeman and Arkin particularly care. This is a second-house kind of movie; they’re just here for the check. And honestly, even 60 percent of these guys is perfectly OK. There’s an occasional flash of something resembling effort, but never for long – all three of them are apparently saving themselves for movies that matter. Meanwhile, the supporting players are surprisingly strong as well – Serafinowicz and Ortiz are both talented guys, while folks like Matt Dillon and Kenan Thompson are here as well. On the old-timer side, legends like Ann-Margaret and Christopher Lloyd are here.

Look, I’m not even necessarily averse to “old people” comedy; I’ve seen examples that I’ve enjoyed well enough. And it’s not like this movie is really aiming at me; if the screening I attended is any indicator, the target demographic for this film basically remembers when the talkies first became a thing. To me, jokes about old people not understanding things aren’t really jokes, but to the aged cohort in the theater, it was the highest of high comedy.

“Going in Style” might not be engaging or funny or heartfelt or anything like that. It might not be all that well-made or interesting. But one thing is for certain – this movie knows its audience.

[2 out of 5]

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