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Lovable trio tries to overcome lost pensions in 'Going in Style'

You'd have to be made of quartz to resist 84-year-old Michael Caine, 83-year-old Alan Arkin and 80-year-old Morgan Freeman in "Going in Style." It's the new, all-star version of Martin Brest's 1979 comedy about three struggling old duffers who decide to get into the bank robbery business to cure their financial ills.

The original had a dark streak to it. There was a death before it was over. And one of the reasons the boys decided that bank robbery was their road out of institutional American ageism is that they had been reduced to eating dog food.

There's nothing remotely funny about the elderly subsisting on pet food. That version of "Going in Style" was directed by the guy who made "Beverly Hills Cop" and starred George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg. The big surprise was Burns, who was never anybody's fool. When you're in a movie with actors as good as Carney and Strasberg, you can't just do vaudeville, radio and nightclub shtick; just being George Burns isn't enough. Tough and disciplined acting is required.

This is an even more lovable trio than the original. But the movie is lighter and more sentimentalized. Even so, the bank shenanigans of 2008 and subsequent American financial collapse continue to give American movies a good reason to hate bankers as much as they used to in the 1930s. (See the recent rural bank job film "Hell or High Water" in which Jeff Bridges played the sheriff.)

Caine plays Joe, the one who gets the idea for the robbery. He and his retired pals across the street--Willie (Freeman) and Albert (Arkin)--are about to lose their pensions they worked 40 years for because their old plant is closing and moving to Vietnam. The money from their pension fund goes to their local bank which needn't distribute it once the original contractual company no longer exists on American soil.

On top of this, Joe is about to lose the house he lives in with his beloved daughter and granddaughter because he can't pay the ballooned mortgage.

A good deal of rueful black humor can be piled on top of this, of course. And it is, quite successfully. But the basic situation isn't funny. It's the anger at the plight of old age in America that gives the movie its forward momentum.

With this setup, it's far from irrelevant who the actors are. The whole flavor of the film depends on who are the guys who are learning the ins and the outs of bank robbery. When you stack the cards with Caine, Freeman and Arkin--three actors who can do "lovable old duffers" in their sleep--things are a lot more conventional than they were with Carney and Strasberg, a couple of older actors whose lovability had more than a little edge.

Lest you think that the original hasn't been sweetened enough, this one also has, yes, Ann-Margret, who plays the autumnal love interest of lucky Alan Arkin. She's the epitome of senescent fantasy, the beautiful clerk at the local supermarket who won't take no for an answer and insists on offering Albert a hearty homecooked meal and an even heartier dessert.

It's an actor's movie through and through, a bit unlike the 1979 original. This time the director is sitcom actor Zach Braff who makes sure that his cast gets to use every audience-seducing trick they've ever learned in all those decades of seducing audiences.

It will come as a surprise to many that this one was written by Theodore Melfi, the writer/director of "Hidden Figures." You can't miss when you've got actors like these saying goodbye to their pals by saying "I'm going home to sort out my pills." Or when Alan Arkin, refuses to eat the meals offered at their local lodge hall saying "this corn is from World War II."

The way the guys figure it, the worst that can happen to them after their bank job is that they get busted and thrown in prison where they'll have daily meals and "better health care than we've got now."

With gently funny ineptitude, they try out their life of crime by trying to rob a supermarket and get busted for, among other things, shoving whole pork loins down their pants.

The humor here can be very broad and predictable every step of the way.

Look at it this way: laughing at "Going in Style" and falling, yet again, for Caine, Freeman and Arkin is a lot less harmful than voting into office those who claim to decry such things and who have less than no interest in helping.

Remember how many movies you've loved with such actors? Well you will again, if you see this.

And Ann-Margret, too.


"Going In Style"

2.5 stars (out of four)

Starring: Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, Ann-Margret, Christopher Lloyd and Matt Dillon

Director: Zach Braff

Running time: 96 minutes

Rated: PG-13 for drugs, language and suggestive material

The lowdown: Three angry retirees lose their pensions so they rob the bank that absorbed their pension fund.

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