One point I left out of my review of “Going In Style” yesterday was the damage it does to the reputation of the older actors who star in it. Alan Arkin, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine have collectively starred in dozens of classic movies, and yet they’re forced to settle for garbage like this, because there’s a dearth of good material being written for them in Hollywood.
It hasn’t always been so. Helen Mirren doesn’t seem to have any shortage of roles. Ruth Gordon did several wonderful movies after she turned 70. Meryl Streep is 68 and still very much in demand, with a high percentage of worthwhile projects.
There have been a few very good movies starring actors over 60:
- Bruce Dern and June Squibb in “Nebraska”;
- Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, and Bill Nighy in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”;
- Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ann-Margret, Burgess Meredith and Ossie Davis in “Grumpy Old Men.”
Of course, Ron Howard’s “Cocoon” remains the best movie to star an ensemble of older actors, with Wilford Brimley, Maureen Stapleton, Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Jack Gilford, Gwen Verdon, and Don Ameche (who won an Oscar for it!).
Unfortunately, the quality list isn’t nearly as long as the Not So Good list. Take, for instance, James Garner and Jack Lemmon playing two ex-presidents who team up to take down the corrupt incumbent, Dan Aykroyd, in “My Fellow Americans.” Or the ridiculousness of Clint Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, and James Garner on the space shuttle in “Space Cowboys.”
Then there’s the bottom of the barrel of this genre, led in recent years by “Last Vegas” (in which Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline romp around Las Vegas making Viagra jokes and chewing every bit of scenery in sight) and “Stand Up Guys” (with Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and yes, Alan Arkin enjoying an evening of inappropriate activities and Viagra jokes).
Actresses get short shrift in these movies, too. Talented people like Mary Steenburgen, Marcia Gay Harden and — on more than one occasion — Ann-Margret, serve no other purpose than to be the romantic interest of the usually-much-older men.
You’ll notice that several of the actors I’ve named (Garner, Lemmon, Arkin, Freeman) have done several stinkers, particularly in their later years, and they’re not alone. What was the last time any of these actors appeared in a movie anyone would describe as great: Robert Redford, Robert DeNiro, James Caan, Dustin Hoffman, Warren Beatty, and James Earl Jones?
Are they only being offered bad scripts? Are their agents making bad choices? Is it all about the money?
Michael Caine was once asked if he’d ever seen “Jaws 4,” a movie so weak it barely reached the screen from the projection booth. He replied, “Never. I hear it’s terrible. However, I have seen the house it built and that’s terrific.” He’s probably been able to buy several houses with the income from the multitude of other bad movies he’s made, including “Swarm,” “The Hand,” and “Blame It On Rio.” Caine hasn’t lowered himself to the point where he’s costarring with Adam Sandler or Rob Schneider, but he did do one with Steven Seagal (“On Deadly Ground”), so his participation in the disaster that is “Going In Style” shouldn’t come as a total surprise.
Still, Caine and the others — both male and female — remain giants of cinema history, with plenty of iconic performances in their past. To see their careers devolve to the point where the only thing they get to do is predictable, poorly-written nonsense is an absolute shame.
If you’re looking for better movies the stars of “Going In Style” made earlier in their careers, I suggest…
- Michael Caine: “Educating Rita,” “Deathtrap,” “Alfie,” “Sleuth,” “The Man Who Would Be King,” “California Suite,” “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “Noises Off,” “Little Voice,” “The Cider House Rules,” “The Dark Knight,” “Harry Brown,” and “Inception.”
- Alan Arkin: “The In-Laws,” “Argo,” “Sunshine Cleaning,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Slums of Beverly Hills,” “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “Simon,” “Freebie and the Bean,” and “The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!”
- Morgan Freeman: “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Invictus,” “The Dark Knight,” “Gone Baby Gone,” “Along Came A Spider,” “Seven,” “Unforgiven,” “Glory,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Lean On Me,” “Clean and Sober,” and “Street Smart.”