`Rappaport' a Grumpy Old Flick

Article excerpt

"I'm Not Rappaport" - a faithful, incorrigible movie version of the Herb Gardner play, transposed by Mr. Gardner himself - seems determined to begin where Clifford Odets' play "Waiting for Lefty" ends.

A flashback set at a union gathering in 1910, a generation before "Lefty," concludes with the chant, "Strike! Strike! Strike!" Ron Rifkin leads the chorus in a fleeting, cameo appearance as Ben Gold, organizer of furrier workers in a faraway Manhattan.

An arresting but misleading tease, the strike meeting is a recurring flashback that supposedly reveals a formative experience for a little boy called Nat Moyer, whom the audience must embrace or reject in an elderly guise entrusted to Walter Matthau.

An octogenarian and diehard radical, argumentative Nat sometimes shares a bench in Central Park with an acquaintance named Midge Carter(Ossie Davis), a former prizefighter trying to conceal failing eyesight while hanging on to a sinecure as a building superintendent.

When wandering away from this outpost in the park, Nat likes to stir up trouble.

A former communist firebrand whose crusading spirit has grown more parochial and capricious with age, he poses as a consumer protection advocate while discounting all the groceries at a neighborhood market. Nat later assumes the role of an apocryphal business agent from Midge's nonexistent union to bully an impractical settlement from the apologetic tenant obliged to inform Midge that a renovation will eliminate his super's job.

The play consists of Nat running bluffs with or without Midge's cooperation. Rather than yield to the arguments of a daughter (Amy Irving), who fears for his safety (justifiably) as an aging target for park predators, Nat lies about joining a second, secret family in Israel. …