The idea of the comedy crime caper is not a new one and, in fact, it can be argued that it has been done to death in multiple films over the span of time. You have films like Ocean’s Eleven, A Fish Called Wanda and Matchstick Men just to name a few that stand out. And why do those films stand out? Because each one of those was artistically different enough to stand out? Wanda is a great mixture of American and British humour with talent from both sides of the pond and perfectly blended slapstick with clever writing, Ocean’s Eleven was a fun all-star loaded cast having a bunch of fun with each other and Matchstick Men, which took a darkly comic take on a man with several neurological disorders dealing with a shady partner and a girl who suddenly shows up claiming to be his daughter.
That brings us to this particular film, which places elderly acting heavyweights together in the form of Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin. All three are down on their luck especially with the closure of their plant and the announcement that all their pension checks will be frozen now that all the labour is being outsourced to Vietnam. Caine plays Joe, who becomes inspired to rob a bank when he is caught in the midst of one by some very real criminals as he is dealing with some schmuck bank manager. At first, Willie (Freeman) and Al (Arkin) are not completely receptive to the idea but after some reminders that real life blows, they are both soon on-board and set their plan in motion. Meanwhile, Arkin deals with a flirty neighbour (Ann-Margret) and Freeman secretly needs a new kidney but doesn’t share that with anyone because he’s just so darn prideful.
One thing that should be noted right off the bat is that this film is a remake of a 1979 film starring Art Carney, George Burns and Lee Strasberg and directed by Martin Brest. Whereas the characters in that film robbed a bank because they were bored of just sitting on the bench day after day and the same old crap, this one gives our heroes a motivation for wanting to commit the crime in an attempt to make their plight a lot more relateable. That almost makes this film feel “safer” than the original, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it doesn’t really stand out in any other way to make it really shine as it should, especially with the talent involved.
As far as our three leads go, each of them brings something to the table and they have good chemistry together as expected and their performances are fun but they don’t really get a whole lot to do other than joking around with each other and firing off one-liners. The laughs are surprisingly light overall in fact and most of the “broader” jokes don’t really work. Freeman gets some pathos but the conclusion of that just feels like an easy way out and the ending (don’t worry, no spoilers) even feels a bit cheap. As far as the other actors in the film, Ann-Margret still looks great but has very little to do as a very sexually liberated woman pining after Arkin and Matt Dillon is completely wasted in a nothing role while Kenan Thompson makes the most of his brief scene as a store manager in remarkable fashion. In fact, he may be the film’s highlight and the whole scene involving the three men going through a “trial run” robbery in the grocery store is a hoot.
Unfortunately, scenes like that are few and far between. We get an odd “bad father” subplot that is introduced and then swiftly resolved and scenes in a diner involving a sassy waitress that are fine but also feel completely superfluous when compared to the rest of the plot. Braff’s direction doesn’t really enhance anything either. There is more of a sense of style over substance in terms of scenes involving the men planning their heist and again, it seems unnecessary. Why bother with the use of split-screens and fast-cut editing techniques when it does nothing to really enhance the story?
So while the film won’t end up on any worst-of lists by the end of the year, it is wholly unremarkable despite a couple of amusing scenes and solid performances as it’s the story and the writing where the whole thing really begins to fall apart.
RATING: ** ½
Less than * (Actively offensive to one’s intelligence)
* (Brutal; bottom-of-the-barrel)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)