80 for Brady

In this age of endless superhero and franchise movies, it's nothing short of a miracle to get an original film like 80 for Brady that stars legendary actresses Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno, and Sally Field. It's also a real shame that these extraordinarily talented people apparently aren't getting offered better material. Increasingly, it seems like the only way for actresses over 60 to get leading roles in major releases is to make “crazy old lady” comedies like Book Club, Poms, and Mack & Rita. Sure, it's great to see this quartet together in anything, but watching this film continually made me want to see them in a project worthy of their abilities.

They play four friends who are all obsessed with the New England Patriots and star quarterback Tom Brady. Lou (Tomlin) has an unopened letter from her doctor, which will reveal whether her cancer has returned. Trish (Fonda) writes erotic fiction and is quick to fall for any man she dates, typically to disastrous results. Maura (Moreno) is a widow who chooses to live in her late husband's nursing home room rather than in her own house. Betty (Field) is a mathematician who constantly puts the needs of her insecure husband (Bob Balaban) ahead of her own. Whenever a game is on, they gather at Lou's house to reenact a superstitious ritual they believe helps ensure a victory.

When the Pats make it to the Super Bowl, the women decide that they should attend to support their team. An online sports show giveaway provides them with tickets. Not long after getting there, the usually reliable Betty loses those tickets, setting off a panic. Having come halfway across the country, everyone agrees that giving up isn't an option. It's not what Tom Brady would do, after all! They need to find a way to get into that stadium to see the team play.

If 80 for Brady had stuck with that idea, it would have been a perfectly pleasant, if unremarkable comedy about female friendship. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins (Booksmart) keeps making dumb detours. Betty enters a hot wing eating contest. Maura and Lou are accidentally given edibles at a party and subsequently stumble around a mansion stoned out of their minds. Trish hooks up with a former footballer (Harry Hamlin). None of these subplots are funny. It gets worse. An especially preposterous scene, given away in the film's trailer, finds them posing as dancers to get past security. They briefly discuss what dance moves they know, then bust into a perfectly choreographed routine. Yeah, right. The only thing dumber than that is a running gag about the women encountering celebrity chef Guy Fieri. Celebrity cameos are often utilized in favor of actual jokes here.

When it's not indulging in bad sitcom-level hijinks, the movie busies itself trying to build to an emotional climax. To say what happens wouldn't be fair, but when someone points out the booth where offensive coordinators communicate to the players via speakers in their helmets, we immediately know the story is going to sink to an extremely contrived place. It does not disappoint on that count. The attempt to build pathos at the end is frustrating, because the way to do it would be to focus on the characters themselves and the friendship between them, not to whip out a manipulative twist that feels every bit as forced as it is.

Four things keep 80 for Brady from being one of the worst pictures of the year: Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno, and Sally Field. Watching them together is a total treat, and the chemistry they work up is terrific. The actresses are clearly having fun. They deliver idiotic dialogue with humor and sincerity, and inject implausible scenes with energy. Even when the story is at its worst, seeing them onscreen offers undeniable pleasure. Too bad nothing else in this dopey comedy is up to their level.

out of four

80 for Brady is rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some drug content and some suggestive references. The running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.