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Schultz reviews: ‘Going in Style’ and ‘Support Your Local Sheriff’

Schultz reviews: ‘Going in Style’ and ‘Support Your Local Sheriff’

Carl Schultz

 

“Going in Style” Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, 96 Minutes, Rated PG-13, Released April 7, 2017:

 

In “Going in Style,” three elderly retired men are swindled out of their pensions through legal doubletalk. One of the men also has an obscure clause in his mortgage contract unexpectedly optioned by his bank, and is about to lose his home. And as a means of not only avenging themselves on the institutions which stole their meager securities but also of chasing the wolf from their doors once and for all, the three decide to rob the bank primarily responsible for their financial woes.

 

It’s said that revenge is a dish which is best served cold. But although “Going in Style” employs vengeance as its primary subject, the most notable aspect of the picture is its sense of warmth. The movie’s all in good fun and nobody gets hurt, although a few of the movie’s characters have their dignities assaulted and their egos deflated with a well-deserved swift kick in the pants. And it helps enormously that the senior citizens at the center of the picture’s activities are played by three of America’s most beloved motion picture personalities.

 

Michael Caine plays Joe, the catalyst of the operation, so trusting in the essential decency of the world that he moved his divorced daughter into his home so his sharply intelligent granddaughter could attend better schools and enjoy more progressive educational opportunities. When his financial security is shattered by corporate greed, he’s filled with cardinal contempt for the system. Ultimately Joe can’t imagine why he and his buddies can’t outsmart an institution dumb enough to have underestimated them.

 

Morgan Freeman is Joe’s friend Willie, a bemused and sweetly optimistic gentleman who at first resists Joe’s notion as preposterous. But when he no longer has enough money to visit his distant family and then is threatened by a medical condition made worse by his inability to afford proper hospital care, Willie literally has nothing more to lose, and decides to go along with his friend’s outrageous plan, just as a means of survival.

 

And Alan Arkin is Albert, the dour realist and instinctive pessimist of the three. Albert’s logical mind firmly believes his friends’ plan can’t possibly work … but also can’t quite bring himself to say no to it. Also Willie’s roommate, Albert in one sidesplitting scene is so exasperated and embarrassed by his partners’ first fledgling attempt at larceny that he refuses them entry into the getaway car and instead drives off in a snit without them.

 

“Going in Style” is a re-imagining of a 1979 picture of the same name, but actually uses very little of the earlier film besides its basic premise. Audience members who expect, or fear, Caine, Freeman, and Arkin are going to simply coast along on their prodigious talents and the audience’s enormous goodwill are in for a delightful surprise: “Going in Style” gives each of its stars roles which are among the meatiest in their long careers, as well as another opportunity for the old pros to show the audience why each has an Academy Award or two on his mantle. 

 

Far from being shadows of themselves during their glory years, the three actors become so invested in their roles that as the movie goes along and the plot thickens they actually seem to grow younger until the audience realizes with some wonder that Freeman, Arkin, and Caine — at ages 79, 83, and 84 respectively at the time of the picture’s 2017 release — are as vital and vibrant as at any time during their storied careers. And although slow to start, “Going in Style” eventually becomes a comedy as clever and inventive in its own way as any since “The Sting” in 1973.

 

“Going in Style” features a cast of familiar and wonderfully entertaining personalities, both in front of and behind the camera. Character actor extraordinaire John Ortiz scores as a sort of criminal mentor for the three elderly men. Matt Dillon as the trio’s FBI nemesis is uproarious in his stolid cluelessness. And Christopher Lloyd, best known for his role on television’s “Taxi” and as Doc Brown in the megahit “Back to the Future” pictures, is on hand with his patented brand of frantic, obsessive lunacy as an acquaintance of the three would-be bank robbers.

 

1960s film siren Ann-Margret, still stunning as a septuagenarian, gives a wily performance as a clerk at the local supermarket who somehow perceives matrimonial material buried within Arkin’s crabby demeanor. Incredibly, Arkin resists the clerk’s advances almost as forcefully as he resists the idea of the robbery, but in time he rethinks both notions. Ann-Margret’s scenes are a special delight in a genuinely delightful movie.

 

Watch for a brief but pivotal appearance by young Joey King as Caine’s teenage granddaughter. The star of the delightful family comedy “Ramona and Beezus” in 2010, King later found a niche appearing in horror fare such as “The Conjuring,” “Wish Upon” and “Slender Man” before earning critical raves for her role in Hulu’s limited 2019 series “The Act.” Fun Fact: The younger King, with her head shaved, also played the young prisoner who escapes from the remote desert prison during the flashback scenes of the 2012 Batman blockbuster “The Dark Knight Rises.”

 

Written by “Hidden Figures” filmmaker Theodore Melfi, “Going in Style” was directed by Zach Braff, the young comic actor best known for his role as the medical resident on the television comedy “Scrubs” from 2001 to 2010.  Braff guides “Going in Style” with a firm but crafty comedic hand ... although purists might lament the questionable overuse of split screen, a movie device mostly left behind in the films of the 1960s and 1970s. “Going in Style” has a narrative style strong enough to not have to rely on cinematic gimmicks.

 

Braff and Melfi and the cast of seasoned professionals invest “Going in Style” with a wealth of delightful surprises, keeping the audience smiling all the way through its sleek 96-minute running time until the very end, when they unleash the big laughs. And although crime does not pay, this is a movie you’ll still be smiling about tomorrow ... and probably chuckling about for at least a couple of days afterward.

 

“Going in Style” is rated PG-13 for drug content, language, and some suggestive material. The movie is now streaming on Amazon.

 

 

“Support Your Local Sheriff” Distributed by United Artists, 92 Minutes, Rated PG, Released March 26, 1969:

 

Five years before Mel Brooks’ comedy “Blazing Saddles” broke box office records by lampooning every movie western cliche its writers (which included Richard Pryor) could find within laughing distance, a group of movie veterans and familiar television actors came up with a sweetly affectionate little western which accomplished many of the same ends ... and in some cases did it even better.

 

In “Support Your Local Sheriff” movie legend James Garner plays Jason McCullough, a footloose and opportunistic gambler and itinerant gunfighter who drifts through frontier boom-town Calendar, Colorado, en route to greener pastures in Australia. In need of money to finance his travel, McCullough skeptically agrees to become Calendar’s sheriff — a position with a life expectancy numbering in minutes. And as he tames the town through unconventional law enforcement methods while simultaneously romancing the mayor’s accident-prone daughter, McCullough is forced to confront Calendar’s prosperous, corrupt, and murderous Danby clan.

 

Possibly the most beloved actor this side of James Stewart, James Garner was a genuine American original ... and a real anomaly in entertainment history. For more than 50 years, while his contemporaries (and friends) Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood started their careers in television western series, graduated to motion pictures, and never looked back, Garner moved effortlessly back and forth between movie and television roles with an ease which defied show business convention.

 

As Eastwood and McQueen and others eschewed comedic parts for laconic gravity and achieved superstardom by specializing almost exclusively in iconic roles and tailor-made film projects, Garner embraced both drama and comedy in each of the major performance mediums. The star of moneymaking film classics such as John Sturges’ fact-based 1963 World War II drama “The Great Escape” (also starring McQueen) and John Frankenheimer’s spectacular 1966 widescreen racing extravaganza “Grand Prix,” Garner to this day is probably still best known for his popular weekly television series “Maverick” during the 1950s and “The Rockford Files” during the 1970s.

 

A natural-born matinee idol with wavy black hair, chiseled features, and a sledgehammer jaw, Garner also radiated an easy confidence and bemused demeanor — qualities which inspired in viewers an instinctive trust through the actor’s seeming perfectly at ease in any situation, no matter how dire. If Garner hadn’t become a movie star, you almost get the feeling he’d eventually have been elected to the screen by millions of appreciative television viewers, who over time began to think of him as an old friend. Garner’s was a quality shared by neither the solitary McQueen nor the loner Eastwood.

 

During a year which also contained the box office bonanza teaming of Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the seriocomic western “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and Sam Peckinpaugh’s ultra-violent revisionist western saga “The Wild Bunch,” many viewers found an amiable and low-key western comedy like “Support Your Local Sheriff” surprisingly easy to overlook ... at least at first.

 

Written by comedy specialist and former Life Magazine reporter William Bowers and directed by movie and television western veteran Burt Kennedy, “Support Your Local Sheriff” gathered a once-in-a-lifetime supporting cast of performers you’ve seen in literally dozens of movies and TV series over the years — Harry Morgan, Walter Brennan, Bruce Dern, Henry Jones, Kathleen Freeman, Jack Elam — and used them in familiar roles to turn the movie genre on its ear by setting up a series of typical western situations, and then taking the narrative into unexpected directions, always with hilarious results.

 

While the later “Blazing Saddles” was made from the perspective of outsiders looking in and mocks familiar movie western conventions which never quite seemed historically authentic, “Support Your Local Sheriff” enjoys the instinctive warmth of being produced by actual veterans of the western genre — insiders who knew where and how to tickle the genre ... and then pretend they didn’t. The movie contains the delicate hilarity of familiar characters behaving in silly ways and speaking silly dialogue while maintaining straight faces. It’s funny in much the same way as a child in church trying as hard as he can to not giggle.

 

Also produced by Garner through his Cherokee Productions company, “Support Your Local Sheriff” earned so little money at the box office during its opening week that distributor United Artists was about to withdraw it from theaters. But Garner invested a considerable sum of  his own money to keep the movie playing for one additional week, and challenged United Artists to do the same. The actor’s gamble paid off: Word-of-mouth began to circulate and attendance began to increase until lines of people were forming around theaters. By the end of its run, “Support Your Local Sheriff” was listed among the most successful films of 1969.

 

Now streaming on Amazon, “Support Your Local Sheriff” is a genuine pleasure from beginning to end, and is acceptable viewing for all audiences. Check it out. “Support Your Local Gunfighter,” again featuring Garner and much of the same personnel, followed in 1971 and is also being featured on the streaming service.

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