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Published: Friday, 2/15/2013

Age just a number at the box office

BY KIRK BAIRD
CULTURE SHOCK

We live in a time when we're increasingly told age doesn't matter — at least, as it was once defined.

Stories of age and stereotype-defying feats by septuagenarians, octogenarians, nonagenarians, and even centenarians routinely anchor the end of TV broadcasts and in the feature sections of newspapers. These are feel-good items, like the water-skiing squirrel, designed to make us smile after being bludgeoned by mostly bad news involving death, crime, economic troubles, and whatever else is askew.

The Minnesota grandmother jumping out of a plane for the first time to mark her 90th birthday. The British weight lifter who's in better shape at 93 than many of us have ever been. And 101-year-old British Sikh Fauja Singh, the world's oldest marathon runner who will run his final race Feb. 28.

We celebrate these older people for doing what younger people do.

So what's the difference between them and 69-year-old Mick Jagger and his other Rolling Stones mates, who hit the road to celebrate the band's 50th anniversary with five concerts last year and which recently announced a world tour for later this year? They're also doing what younger people do and what they've done for five decades. Based on reviews of the band's shows, they did it quite well.

Yet the age jokes persist about Mick and Co., such as the band including colostomy bags on its tour rider.

Rock and roll is a young man's game, after all. So, apparently, is muscle-bound action hero.

At least it was, until the recent arrival of a trio of new action films from AARP-eligible action stars: first from 65-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger, then 66-year-old Sylvester Stallone, and this week 58-year-old Bruce Willis, the pup in this triumvirate.

Unlike the Stones' concert success, Schwarzenegger and Stallone's films were met with dismal reviews and audience rejection. Schwarzenegger's The Last Stand, the actor's first solo action film in a decade, grossed less than $12 million at the box office. Compare that to his 1993 flop The Last Action Hero, which still made $50 million, and that's in 1993 money. It's even worse for Stallone's Bullet to the Head bomb, which has earned less than $9 million so far in two weeks of release. To find a comparable flop by the actor you have to go all the way back to 1978's Paradise Alley.

It's too soon to render a verdict on Willis as action hero John McClane in A Good Day to Die Hard, the fifth film in the Die Hard series, since the film opened Thursday. It's better than either The Last Stand or Bullet to the Head (see my review), and should make substantially more money at the box office.

It helps that Willis also is in better "hero shape" onscreen (aka more believable) than Schwarzenegger, without the freakish bulky appearance of a crazed lab experiment gone awry as with Stallone. (How is it that, at 66, Stallone appears bigger and more veiny than at any point in his career?)

An editor suggested to me that there is a double standard when it comes to aging actors and aging rock stars. And perhaps there is some truth to that sentiment, if expanded to the broadest of terms. Aging actors are typically given a pass by audiences and critics. No one slights 82-year-old Robert Duvall's age in reviews or 69-year-old Robert De Niro. And 66-year-old Tommy Lee Jones, Golden Globes curmudgeonly glare aside, delivered an Oscar-nominated performance in Lincoln, and his finest since 2007's No Country for Old Men.

But then there's Clint Eastwood, the "but then there's" clause in almost any discussion of veteran actors.

At nearly 83, Eastwood is keeping the Grumpy Old Men franchise going — in spirit, at least — with a stream of grumpy old men film roles.

Is that typecasting or actor preference? Or could it be that Eastwood offscreen is the same crotchety old man we see onscreen, a real-life Grampa Simpson, only with better clothes and two Oscars? In which case, it's not our age that defines who we are and what we can do, but how many kids we chase out of our yard.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.



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