80 for Brady review

80 for Brady is a middling effort in the Geezer Pleaser sub-genre

2 out of 5 stars

Stars can’t shine forever in Hollywood. It’s inevitable that, after some time in the limelight, the roles you’re offered aren’t quite up to par with what they used to be. Call it ageism, call it structural inequalities, call it a more limited market, call it the average star’s dogged refusal to retire — one way or another, it’s nothing new that formerly A-list stars of a certain age find themselves in projects below their paygrade. These days, there are just about two kinds of movies that can feature lead actors in their 70s and 80s. The first is what many have coined the “geezer teaser” – extremely low-budget action movies in which a marquee star (or three) appear in supporting roles, allowing the marketing to pretend like there really are action movies starring 79-year-old Robert De Niro being made. The other type of movie is less common and does not have, as far as I know, a catchy rhyming name, so I coined one: the geezer pleaser.

These generally take the form of crowd-pleasing ensemble cast comedies in which a collection of older actors (usually not less than three, though exceptions like The Bucket List can be found) find themselves in situations more befitting younger people: hilarity, hopefully, ensues. Like geezer teasers, geezer pleasers are hardly great art. As filmmaking, they’re straightforward and unfussy; as comedy, they mostly trade in familiarity and incongruous situations (aka the Rappin Granny theorem) for laughs. The best one can hope of a movie like 80 for Brady is that they’ll get to spend a little time with some screen legends and come out of it relatively unscathed. 

80 for Brady, however, also represents another maligned subgenre that has previously generally been dominated by Adam Sandler: a shambling, plotless hangout comedy that has been aggressively branded at every opportunity. It’s packed with incongruous cameos and features several wooden appearances by its title character (and producer) Tom Brady, 80 for Brady feels unapologetically vain and mercantile… even for a movie with the title 80 for Brady.

Lifelong friends Lou (Lily Tomlin), Trish (Jane Fonda), Maura (Rita Moreno) and Betty (Sally Field) have entertained an obsessive fandom of the New England Patriots and their star quarterback Tom Brady ever since a chance meeting with his first season in the NFL during Lou’s recovery from chemo. They now have a football ritual that bonds them even as their lives take different paths: Trish is eternally single and boy crazy (!), Maura is mourning the death of her husband while entertaining a potential new relationship with another resident at the home she lives in, while retired mathematics professor Betty feels boxed-in by the demands of her scatterbrained husband (Bob Balaban). When the Pats make it to the Super Bowl, the four friends devise a way to head to Houston and finally see their hero play.

What ensues is a low-wattage series of hijinx that include but are not limited to: a Guy Fieri-sponsored hot wings contest, a dance sequence starring Billy Porter, Rita Moreno zonked out on edibles, making out with Harry Hamlin in a broom closet, a pantsless Bob Balaban, sleeping pills ingested at the wrong moment and so on and so forth until we finally reach a triumphant ending. This premise obviously sets audience expectations pretty low, and yet it’s not too long before 80 for Brady feels like it’s overstaying its welcome. Its four stars are in fine form, breathing life into moribund comic situations and hackneyed beats, but their characters are too thinly sketched to truly make a comic impact. In truth, the writing doesn’t seem particularly adapted to each actress’s strengths, making their various setpieces and backstories feel almost interchangeable. 

Props must be given for the fact that the film avoids some of the more egregious clichés of the genre; though we cannot avoid a scene in which our protagonists accidentally ingest edibles and have a psychedelic out-of-body experience that prominently features a Guy Fieri FaceApp gag, we are at least spared the ironic scene of women born in the 1930s and 1940s twerking to W.A.P. or whatever the 2023 equivalent of that might be. (In a movie like this one, we could probably go as far back as “Baby Got Back.”) The four leads give spirited if not exactly transcendent performances, and director Kyle Marvin (making his directorial debut after starring in, co-producing and co-writing festival hit The Climb) and cinematographer at least try to make sure it looks like a movie rather than an elaborate ad for the NFL with silver screen legends wandering through it.

At the end of the day, however, that’s pretty much exactly what 80 for Brady is. The star QB’s imprimatur is all over this thing, and no one in the film is ever anything but fawning with praise for Brady. (Brady announced his first, short-lived retirement during production, which allegedly sent everyone scrambling for a bit before he rescinded his retirement. This week he announced his retirement again.) It’s certainly not common practice to hinge a vanity project for an athlete on a buddy comedy starring retirees, but there’s a first time for everything. ■

80 for Brady (Dir. Kyle Marvin)

80 for Brady opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Feb. 3.

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